Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama)
There are many breathing techniques (Pranayamas) which tap into the internal body to activate, energise or relax the body and mind. The breath is the only part of our autonomic nervous system which can be controlled intentionally. All other functions happen automatically, heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature etc. When we panic, see danger or risk we breathe in fast short pants. This alone releases hormones which switch on our fight or flight stress mode. Our body reacts by taking most of our inner energy to our muscles and brain, charging them ready to pounce or react. Simply slowing down the breath informs our central nervous system, through the vagus nerve, there is no risk externally. So we switch to rest and digest mode, automatically reducing our stress hormones, which then moves energy from our tense muscles to our less immediately important systems for immediate survival such as digestion, immunity and reproduction, all essential for good physical and mental health.
In my opinion, the ultimate breathing technique to reduce stress is Nadi Shodhan which translates to alternate nostril breathing. Nadi Shodhan balances the yin and the yang of our inner body and mind, or in scientific language it balances the the sympathetic and the parasympathetic side of our central nervous system.
1.Sit comfortably if on a chair keeping your spine straight and away from the back of the chair. Drop your shoulders and lift the top of your head towards the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Be alert but relaxed in your posture.
2.Lightly place the tips of your right index and middle fingers on your forehead between your eyebrows. Close your eyes and gaze internally at the point your fingers touch your forehead.
3.Your ring finger resting on the left nostril and thumb resting your right nostril.
4.Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out gently through your left nostril for a slow count of 4, about heartbeat pace.
5.Breathe in through your left nostril at the same pace.
6.Close the left nostril gently with your ring finger while removing your right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right nostril at the same, long slow pace.
7.Breathe in from your right nostril. This is one round complete.
8.Switch nostrils and repeat this breathing technique for 3-5 minutes.
Do this for 3-5 minutes when you feel stressed, or even better every morning, to keep stress levels under control. This is a great Pranayama to do before mediation.