“But what does it DO?!?” she asked.
Driving home from our yoga class at Amaravati Wellness Center here in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand – the first yoga class ever for my 15 year old daughter – I was experimenting with Alternative Nostril Yoga Breathing at the red traffic light and trying to explain the theory of yoga and breath-work to my impatient, inquisitive daughter. Haha… Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Nadi Shodhana. Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing. The practice of mindfully, gently closing one nostril and breathing fully & slowly in – and fully & slowly out – on one side, before changing sides and repeating on the other side, whilst gently holding awareness to Ajna, your 3rd eye. Probably NOT ideal at the traffic lights, but my curious self was impatient to feel it out more deeply under a real-live stress situation.
I have practiced Nadi Shodhana intermittently for 35 years, in short bursts when I can find a yoga class that suits my solo-mom-entrepreneurial lifestyle. Always I have been captivated by the simplicity of it. But I found myself fumbling badly to EXPLAIN its exact benefits to Miss 15, who was looking to me expectantly. And so I resolved to read widely and more deeply about it’s practice and benefits.
The general yogi style explanations I initially found didn’t really satisfy my inquiring mind.
- Makes you calm
- Awakens you
- Improves focus
- Feeds your spirit
- Helps you relax
Many of them actually seemed contradictory – ‘helps you sleep’ and ‘helps you think’ generally don’t sit on the same bench in my locker-room! And so I delved deeper and was surprised to discover a substantial body of western-style clinical research explaining the why & how of this powerful preventative natural medicine.
The yogic theory explains simply that the balance between the left and right brain, and between the cooling and warming energies, is what encourages balance, and that balance of these opposing energies enables better health.
I found this video incredibly helpful to explain the simple version of “what is it and what does it DO?” to my daughter, and to improve my own technique:
And then I found myself even more curious about the what & how of specific claimed health benefits. And so I read a lot more.
What struck me first when reading the really detailed clinical studies of Nadi Shodhana, was the duration used for the scientific studies. Whilst we might have managed 30-60 seconds in the yoga class, I read several studies where the participants practised for 15 mins solid for 6 weeks before being clinically evaluated!!
Immediately, for my own personal preventative health, I am resolved to spend 10-15 mins a day when I can, rather than the 1 or 2 mins which I might previously have felt to be “enough”.
Brain hemisphere EEG’s conducted in 2017 by the Patanjali Research Foundation found that Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing was associated with greater calmness, whereas quiet sitting without specific directions was associated with arousal. The results suggest Nadi Shidhana as a health strategy for stress and anxiety reduction. Source
A 2013 study measured nervous system parameters in a group of young adults. They practiced Nadi Shodhana EVERY DAY for 15 mins for 6 weeks, and were then evaluated during the study after 5 mins of breathing. The results showed the Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing significantly influenced parasympathetic nervous response. i.e. the test subjects more readily secreted the relaxation hormones to counterbalance the corticotropin and adrenocorticotropic hormones released during acute stress. Source. A body which can efficiently rebalance after intense stress, shock or danger is far less likely to sustain damage from chronic cortisol elevation, which has been shown to increase weight, impair cognitive processes, slow immune response and increase chronic disease risk.
The parasympathetic (relaxation hormone release) function promoted and supported by Nadi Shodhana has also been shown to enhance autonomic control of the heart. Source. A heart which pumps steadily without variation in blood pressure or heart rate is less likely to trigger stroke, aneurysms, heart attacks, angina or any number of other acute (and often fatal) heart & vascular conditions. Indeed, it could be argued that a steady, strong heart is a (if not THE) foundation of health.
The studies around changed cognitive performance after forced unilateral nose breathing are fascinating; suffice it to say there are many. But this one particularly caught my eye. After 30 mins (again, not the 2 mins managed at the end of a yoga class) of unilateral forced nostril breathing, spatial task performance was specifically enhanced. Source. Michael Melnychuk, PhD candidate at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, found that there is a neurophysiological link that helps explain yogic claims; Breathing, reaction time, and brain activity are controlled in a small area in the brainstem called the locus coeruleus, where noradrenaline is made. Noradrenaline has an all-purpose action in the brain. When we are stressed we produce too much noradrenaline and we can’t focus. When we feel sluggish, we produce too little and again, we can’t focus. There is a sweet spot of noradrenaline in which our emotions, thinking and memory are much clearer. And this production of noradrenaline can be controlled by deliberate, controlled, unilateral nose breathing (ie the alternate nostril yoga breath). Source. Control the breath, keep the noradrenaline in the optimal zone and the functions of thinking, emotion and memory function optimally.
If you’re looking for a Master Key to the major systems of the body which regulate and impact our heath, look no further. The breath can, and does, control the heart, the brain and the hormone messengers which, in turn, control everything. 15 mins of steady, mindful Nadi Shodhana each day strengthening that master key invites glowing natural wellness and balanced natural health. Optimal oxygenation is superb for tissue repair and cellular regeneration, which is why Nadi Shodhana is one of the yogic tools in rejuvenation and the life-enhancing, age-defying Panchakharma.
Such a simple preventative natural medicine strategy. It’s as natural as breathing. Utterly free, totally portable, pleasant, no side effects beyond feeling great, and can be learned in 15 minutes. Practiced for millennia by the yogis, tested by western science and found to be 100% effective.
BlissednBlessed in my Thai natural world and grateful to the yoga class at Amaravati for prompting this journey of discovery.