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Alternate Nostril Breathing (Naadi Shuddhi)

Also known by the names "Naadi Shodhanam" or "Anuloma-Viloma", Naadi Shuddhi (नाडी शुद्धि) is one of the most commonly practiced pranayama techniques in yoga. The word "naadi" means "nerves". In fact, in yoga the term naadi is applied to psychic channels associated with the flow of prana (vital life force). According to some ancient texts, there are 72,000 such naadis in a human system. The words "shuddhi" or "shodhanam" both mean "cleansing" or "purification". So the term "naadi shuddhi" literally means cleansing of the subtle nervous system. A clean naadi system allows free flow of prana which helps bring more vitality and energy to the system.

In this breathing technique, we use deep, soft (almost soundless) ujjayi breaths for each inhalation and exhalation.

Step-by-step

Stage 1


Alternate nostril breath


Alternate nostril breath

  1. Sit in any comfortable sitting posture with the spine erect, eyes closed and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Make the Vishnu Mudra (shown in the picture to the right) with the right hand – make a soft fist, lift the thumb and the last two fingers up, keeping the middle two fingers at the base of the thumb. During the practice using this mudra, the thumb is used to close the right nostril whereas the ring finger is used to close the left nostril.
  3. With the left hand, make the Chin Mudra – join the tips of the index finger and the thumb, keeping the rest of the fingers open and relaxed. Keep the hand on the left knee, palm facing up.
  4. Use the right thumb to close the right nostril. To get started, exhale through the left.
  5. Begin the first round by inhaling through the left nostril.
  6. At the end of inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger and open the right. Then exhale through the right nostril.
  7. Inhale now through the left. At the end of inhalation, close the right nostril with the thumb again and exhale through the left.
  8. This completes one cycle of breathing. Continue for about 6-7 similar cycles. Make sure to use deep and soft Ujjayi breaths for each inhalation and exhalation.

Stage 2

Once you become comfortable with the basic breathing pattern for naadi shuddhi, you can introduce a count into your breathing. You can use a mental count of ‘OM 1’, ‘OM 2’ etc, each being approximately one second, to determine the duration of inhalation and exhalation. The effort in this breathing technique is to make the duration of exhalation longer than that of inhalation. Over a period of time, with practice, you want to achieve a ratio of 1:2 between inhalation and exhalation. So, for example, if your count for inhalation is 5 seconds, then try to extend the exhalation to up to 10 seconds. As your practice deepens, you may be able to extend the duration of each breath, maintaining the same 1:2 ratio. Try to build up your capacity to a count of 10:20 – 10 seconds of inhalation and 20 seconds of exhalation.

I will introduce more advanced stages of naadi shuddhi involving breath retention and ‘bandhas’ in a subsequent post.

Benefits

  • As mentioned above, naadi shuddhi helps cleanse the naadi system so prana can flow freely and energize the whole system.
  • Deep, slow breathing brings in increased supply of fresh oxygen into the system. More oxygen means more pure, oxygenated blood going to every cell of the body. This also means that more of carbon dioxide and toxins are eliminated from the body.
  • Deep breathing helps calm the nerves which can help with the management of  anxiety and stress.
  • Deep, alternating breathing is also now recommended for managing high blood pressure
  • Alternate breathing brings about a balance in the system – balancing the dualities like hot/cold, good/bad, honor/dishonor etc. This also helps balance the two sides of the brain – the analytical and the emotional, thus developing a more balanced personality.
  • In the Kundalini system of yoga, balancing the breath between the two nostrils implies balancing the Ida and Pingala naadis. When these two naadis are balanced, then the prana (vital energy) can flow through the central channel of energy called "sushumna naadi" thus clearing the passage for the rising of the Kundalini Shakti.

 

Contraindications

None! If you can breathe, you can practice Naadi Shuddhi.

20 comments to Alternate Nostril Breathing (Naadi Shuddhi)

  • Oya Lemma

    Dear Teacher,

    Beautiful to see your newsletter. I like reading it. Thank you so much for your efforts and sharing your knowledge with us. It is great to access it anytime we wish. Greetings from Izmir, Turkey.
    Oya Lemma

    ps.Alternate nostril breathing, Stage 1, number 7:inhale now through the left. Should it be right?

    • Subhash

      Hi Oya,
      As always, it is such a pleasure to see a note from you. Hope things are going well with you in Turkey. Yes, you are right about the breathing instruction. I have fixed the error. That was a great catch! thanks.

  • Dr R K S Rathore

    dear Sir,
    We are a group of 40 plus persons at Agra practicing Integrated Yoga
    since 2001 under the guidance of a consultant physician Dr K K Dang & Dr Ramesh Bharadwaj (a visiting yoga teacher from U.K.). Recently I have come to know about your blog and had very useful readings about Pranayama. Dr Braradwaj warns us not to resort to kumbhaka unless we are very thorough in general pranayama. In your Naadi suddhi description written on August 10, 2010 although promised to add Kumbhaka at a later date has not been updated with. Is it for the same reason?

  • Vijen Sharma Bhinday

    this is very-very good and usefull for everybody… many-many thsnks to you to share like this intresting healthy tips…
    Dhanyawaad saa _/\_

  • shailesh

    dear sir subash….in nadishodhan pranayan can we take 5 second of kumbhak during the ratio of 5:5:10 if yes so how much time we taking for nadi shodhan pranayama means o
    for above ratio given if m doing atlrast 20 minites so there is side effect occured….

  • Dear Shailesh,
    It is important to maintain a ratio of 1:2 between inhale:exhale. The duration of kumbhaka should be such that it does not impact the 1:2 ratio between inhale/exhale. For example, if you are able to do 5:10 without kumbhaka, then even when you apply kumbhaka you should be able to 5:10. You can gradually start increasing the duration of kumbhaka as your practice deepens. Swami Shivananda recommends going all the way up to 1:4:2 ratio. So, if you inhale for 5 seconds, you can hold for 20 sec and exhale for 10. Hope this helps.

  • Shailesh fofandi

    dear subhash sir i am doing one hour anulom vilom pranayama for day so there is any side effect will occure or not in future

    • Hi Shailesh, since I have never done Anulom Vilom for one hour myself or have recommended it to my students, I cannot tell you if it might have any side effects. In my practice I usually recommend about 10-12 minutes of this practice. Of course, I also recommend other practices like Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, Bhramari, Ujjayi pranayama etc. which are all very helpful.

  • Shailesh fofandi

    Sir thnx for suggection bt plz help me nw a day m going to depression and my memory power is also weak so plz guide me which pranayama m do for Currntly m doing anulom vilom early in the mornig etlest half hour and m going to decide half hour morning and half hour evening I dnt knw m going in write way or not in the vew fo you what would you suggest me i just want to come out from depression and improve memory power…

    • Hi Shailesh, yoga is most helpful when you practice all the major elements of the practice – asana, pranayama, meditation, relaxation and proper diet. It is not possible to heal the body and the mind by just focusing on one technique. Please invest some time and effort to learn proper yoga techniques and then establish a regular ongoing practice. Wish you all the best.

  • Steph

    Hello Subhash,

    Hope you’re well.

    I have been advised not to practise Pranayama when it’s Cold outside, can you clarify on that please?

    Many Thanks

    • Hi Steph, I have not heard or read about any such guideline. You may want to avoid the cooling pranayamas – shitali and seetkari – during cold weather. All other pranayamas like kapalabhati, bhastrika, alternate nostril breathing etc. should be fine.

  • raim

    Hello Subhash Sir,
    Thank you for such an informative website.
    I have recently started doing the Anulom Vilom for my eyes as i suffer from a condition known as csr in my left eye. i am hoping that this will help in bringing oxygen into eyes and also reduce my stress levels. Thank you all the way from UK

  • raim

    Subhash sir, i have one question which i am hoping you will answer. Is it necessary to touch the tongue on the palette when doing Anulom Vilom?

  • subhankar

    Sir,what are the precautions for alternate nostrils pranayam?iam doing pranayam with meditation in calm and quite room,is it correct?

  • raim

    Thank you for your reply Subhash sir, I have another question–why is it necessary to start off the Anulom Vilom with the left nostril and not the right? After I finish 10 cycles with the left nostril is it necessary to start doing the same with the right one?
    I have read a couple of posts where it states that once you complete whatever number of cycles with the left nostril then you must do the same with the right. I am confused!

    • Hi Raim,
      It is just a tradition that you start off with the left nostril. Since it is alternate breathing, it is not necessary to redo the whole sequence starting with the right. The left nostril is traditionally associated with “cooling”. It is also identified with the “ida” nadi and the female/cool aspect. So, it is a tradition to start and end the anuloma-viloma with the cooling nostril.