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Mastering Nadi Shodhana Pranayama: An Essential Guide to Alternate Nostril Breathing and Its Ancient Origins

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If you can sit comfortably in a chair and relax your body to do some breathing exercises, this is for you. It is a traditional yogic breathing technique known as "alternate nostril breathing." This practice entails gently manipulating the breath through the left and right nostrils with the goal of balancing the body's energies. It has been known to improve focus and concentration in healthy adults and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Nadi Shodhana and its link to ancient Indian sages

Nadi Shodhana's origins can be traced back to the sage Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras. He elaborated on yoga principles, such as pranayama, or breath control, essential to Nadi Shodhana. The concept of Advaita Vedanta was introduced by Sage Adi Shankaracharya, a prominent figure in Indian philosophy. His teachings emphasized the unity of all beings, and Nadi Shodhana can be viewed as a method of achieving this unity by balancing the breath, body, and mind. The arousal of Kundalini energy is discussed in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. With its profound impact on the nadis, or subtle energy channels, Nadi Shodhana plays a crucial role in preparing the body for the Kundalini ascent.

Foundations of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Let us start with the basics.

In the context of Nadi Shodhana, "Nadi" is the Sanskrit word for "channel" or "flow." Think of it as the complex web of channels that carries your body's life force or energy. These pathways are frequently compared to the way blood vessels transport blood, but they have a different function—they circulate prana, the life-giving energy.

The Pulse of Life

To take it a step further, think of "Nadi" as the pulse of your inner energy. Just as your heart beats to keep your body alive, Nadis maintains the flow of prana, ensuring your physical and mental well-being. When these channels are clear and unobstructed, your life force flows freely, promoting health and balance.

Let's introduce the second half of our equation: "Shodhana." It literally means "purification" in Sanskrit. When combined with "Nadi," the practice becomes clear - Nadi Shodhana is all about cleansing and purifying these vital energy channels. These ancient sages believed that by refining the Nadis, one could achieve a higher state of consciousness and unlock the hidden potential within themselves. They understood the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and spirit, and Nadi Shodhana was their key to maintaining this balance.

Modern Interpretation: Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise

Fast forward to the present day, and Nadi Shodhana is often interpreted as the "Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise." It's a simple yet powerful technique that anyone can practice, regardless of their level of yoga expertise. Both Nadi Shodhana and Anulom Vilom Pranayama share the common goal of purifying the energy channels and fostering balance.

Anulom Vilom Pranayama

Anulom Vilom involves the use of specific hand positions to create a flow of breath through alternate nostrils. This practice aims to balance the Ida and Pingala Nadis, much like Nadi Shodhana. The balanced flow of prana in Anulom Vilom harmonizes the mind and body, making it an excellent practice for relaxation and mental clarity.

Benefits of Practicing Nadi Shodhana

  • Stress reduction and anxiety relief
  • Improved concentration and mental clarity
  • Increased lung capacity and better respiratory health
  • Enhanced sleep quality and insomnia relief
  • Emotional balance and mood stabilization
  • Detoxification and lymphatic system stimulation
  • Hormonal balance in women
  • Improved digestion and reduced digestive issues
  • Lower blood pressure and cardiovascular benefits
  • Boosted immune system and illness prevention

How to Practice Nadi Shodhana

Pre-practice Preparations

  • Posture: Sit comfortably with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. A comfortable but stable seat is crucial for this practice.
  • Facial Expressions: Soften your facial muscles and relax your jaw. Your facial expression should be serene and calm.

The Step-by-Step Process of the Practice

Now, let's get into the details of the practice:

01 - Hand Positioning: Using your right hand, form Vishnu Mudra by folding your index and middle fingers toward your palm, leaving your thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger extended. This creates a "Y" shape.

02 - Nostril Control: Use your right thumb to close your right nostril and your ring finger to close your left nostril. Your thumb and ring finger will alternate opening and closing throughout the practice.

The Sequence of Breathing:

03 - Close off your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril.

04 - Close your left nostril with your ring finger, release your right nostril, and exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril.

05 - Inhale deeply through the right nostril.

06 - Close off your right nostril, release your left nostril, and exhale through the left nostril. This completes one round.

Completing a Round: Continue this process for 5-10 minutes, maintaining a slow and controlled pace. Always finish a round by exhaling through the left nostril.

Remember, Nadi Shodhana is about balance and harmony, so maintain a gentle and steady rhythm throughout the practice.

Advanced Techniques and Variations of Nadi Shodhana

While the basic form of Nadi Shodhana is accessible to most practitioners, there are advanced techniques and variations that can further deepen the practice. It's essential to emphasize the importance of learning these advanced methods from a qualified yoga teacher or experienced practitioner to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Breath Retention (Kumbhaka)

One advanced variation of Nadi Shodhana involves incorporating breath retention, or kumbhaka. After inhaling through one nostril, hold the breath for a few seconds before exhaling through the other nostril. Breath retention can help enhance lung capacity, mental focus, and energy flow within the body. However, it's crucial to practice breath retention under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher to avoid potential risks.

Specific Inhalation-Exhalation Ratios

Advanced practitioners can explore specific inhalation and exhalation ratios during Nadi Shodhana. For example, inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8, or even more extended ratios like 1:4:2 (inhale, retain, exhale). These ratios can be customized to suit individual needs, allowing for more precise control of energy and relaxation. Learning to use specific ratios effectively requires guidance to prevent overexertion.

Visualization and Energy Focus

In advanced Nadi Shodhana, practitioners often incorporate visualization and energy channel awareness. This involves focusing on the energy centers (chakras) while performing pranayama. For example, you might visualize energy rising through the chakras as you inhale through one nostril and descending as you exhale through the other. This adds a meditative dimension to the practice and helps with spiritual growth.

Chin Mudra and Bandhas

Advanced variations may include the use of mudras and bandhas. The Chin Mudra, where the index finger and thumb touch lightly, can be used during Nadi Shodhana to enhance the energy flow. Additionally, practicing Jalandhara Bandha (throat lock) or Mula Bandha (root lock) alongside Nadi Shodhana can intensify its effects, but it should only be done under the guidance of a skilled instructor.

The Rewards of Consistent Practice

In the short term, you will experience immediate benefits such as reduced stress, increased mental clarity, and improved focus. The gentle act of balancing the breath helps calm the mind and prepares it for meditation. Over time, you'll notice better emotional stability, improved sleep, and a stronger sense of inner peace.

With regular practice, the rewards multiply. In the medium term, Nadi Shodhana contributes to better respiratory health, enhanced lung capacity, and a stronger immune system. It also helps detoxify the body, which can lead to clearer skin and a radiant complexion. Your nervous system becomes more resilient and better equipped to handle life's ups and downs.

Connecting with Qualified Guidance

For those of you who have found inspiration in the rewards of Nadi Shodhana and wish to explore its depths further, we invite you to consider the 200-hour yoga teacher training in Rishikesh. Rishikesh, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, is renowned as the world capital of yoga and spirituality. Here, you can immerse yourself in the birthplace of this ancient art and learn from qualified teachers who carry the wisdom of generations. You can read more here


Nadi Shodhana, the art of purifying the energy channels, embodies age-old knowledge. Consistent practice has numerous benefits for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It is an all-encompassing method of aligning yourself with the universe and your true self. Make it a part of your life and allow its numerous advantages to improve your quality of life.

Sajan Negi
Sajan Negi

Posted: 25 October, 2023

Renowned for his expertise in yoga and its philosophy, Sajan Negi brings over 15 years of experience in guiding individuals on their transformative journey towards holistic well-being. With a Master’s degree in Yoga and a life dedicated to personal growth, Sajan Negi combines ancient wisdom with modern insights to inspire physical strength, mental clarity, and spiritual peace in his students.