Nadi Shodana is a traditional pranayama practice — a breathing technique — which promotes free and flowing movement of energy throughout the physical and subtle bodies.
The nadis are the energy channels that carry prana (our incredible life-force-energy) through and around the body all the time. There are a lot of them: around 72,000! And Shodana means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to purify’.
So Nadi Shodana does exactly that; cleanses the energy channels to ease out any blockages or imbalances so that we can benefit from all of the energy available to us. It’s particularly effective at balancing two of the main nadis (energy channels) in the body, called Ida and Pingala.
And on a purely physical level, the practice balances the brain’s cerebral hemispheres, increasing feelings of steadiness and calm as the brain functions cohesively.
Who Should Try Nadi Shodana?
Everyone! But if you feel a little slow and sluggish; if you’re lacking in inspiration or motivation; or if you’re just feeling off-kilter and out of balance, this is a wonderful technique to bring to your daily life.
In English, it’s often called Alternate Nostril Breathing, because you close one nostril at a time in order to direct the breath through the other nostril.
Traditionally, the thumb and ring finger are used compress the soft part of each nostril. However new research has shown this has a negative effect on the messages being sent to the brain. Now it is suggested that you use only the thumb to close the opening of the nostrils.
Before you begin your Nadi Shodana practice, it’s important to have established solid foundations in the basic breathing methods of pranayama, including Natural Breath Awareness, Abdominal Breathing and Full Yogic Breath.
These techniques expand your understanding of breath mechanics and ensure that you can safely progress onto practices — like Nadi Shodana — which require a bit more control.
Step By Step: How To Start?
As with all breathing techniques, you should never rush Nadi Shodhana. Take your time — and enjoy the process of learning and expanding your embodied knowledge of the breath!
The stages of the practice build, one after another, as follows. Take one step at a time, and wait until you feel comfortable and confident with that step before you move on to the next.
In this stage, we allow the breath to flow freely and spontaneously through one nostril at a time, and then both nostrils together.
- Sit comfortably with the hips slightly higher than the knees — if you’re sitting on the floor, this may mean you need to sit on a cushion or yoga block to elevate the hips.
- Hold up your right hand in front of the face and place it into Nasagra Mudra (nosetip position) by resting the index and middle fingers gently on the eyebrow centre. Use the thumb to close the right nostril. The ring and little finger are straight and relaxed.
- With that right nostril covered, take five breaths through the left nostril — no need to aim for a specific duration of inhalation or exhalation. Allow the breaths to follow a natural, uncontrolled rhythm and length.
- Then uncover the right nostril, and cover the left nostril with the thumb. Keep the shoulders relaxed. This time, take five easy breaths through the right nostril. You might notice that one side is more blocked than the other.
- Finally, let the hands rest comfortably on the legs and take five natural breaths through both nostrils. This completes one round, continue for another five to ten rounds.
Now, you can begin to focus on the duration of the in breath and the out breath. The aim is to exhale for the same length of time as you inhale — applying a ratio of 1:1 to the breath.
- Sit comfortably and take a few easy, natural breaths to steady yourself and come to the present moment.
- Again, cover the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand. Allow the breath to flow naturally through the left nostril before introducing a count — start with a length of breath that feels comfortable to you; perhaps between 3 or 5 seconds. Then exhale out the left nostril for the same amount of time.
- Take five rounds of breath like this, in the left nostril, then right nostril and then lower the arm and take five breaths of the same duration through both nostrils.
- Build the duration of the breath gradually. If you feel dizzy, take a break and also drop the count back. There should never be any strain or force to the practice.
When you feel comfortable with the controlled, equal duration of inhale and exhale in stage 2, it’s time to practice free flowing breath through alternate nostrils.
For this stage, let go of counting again and allow the length of the breath to vary according to the body’s natural intake and expelling of air. Gradually, you’ll settle into a consistent rhythm — but this can take time.
As well as finding this natural rhythm, stage 3 gives you the opportunity to become more skillful at the hand movements involved in covering and uncovering the nostrils with the breath.
- Close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand, and inhale through the left — any duration.
- Close the left nostril with the thumb of the right hand, and exhale through the right. Then, with the left still blocked, inhale through the right.
- Cover the right nostril, and exhale through the left. That completes one round.
- Take between five and ten rounds with no break between them, noticing the natural length of each inhale and exhale. Make a conscious effort not to control the breath in any way other than opening and closing the nostrils.
For stage 4, we return to that 1:1 ratio that we practiced in stage 2; but this time, keep the duration of the breaths a little shorter. Try 3 seconds.
- Cover the right nostril and inhale through the left for a count of that is comfortable — perhaps 3 seconds.
- Cover the left, uncover the right, and exhale through the right for 3 seconds — no longer. Then inhale through the right for 3 seconds.
- Cover the right, uncover the left, and exhale through the left for 3 seconds. This completes one round.
- Continue for 5 or 10 rounds, with no break in between.
- You may find the length of breath naturally increases — a count of 3 may comfortably extend to a count of 5 without any force or strain.
Embrace The Balance
Once you get the hang of it, Nadi Shodana can help to draw you into a deeply meditative state. It can be a part of a broader yoga and pranayama practice, or you can use it as a complete practice on its own.
It often brings about a feeling of joy or euphoria which is a blissful experience. It’s the result of a sense of balance and equilibrium settling throughout the body, and that balance extends to every part of you — including your emotions, your diet, and eventually even your external relationships.