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Nadishodhanam Breathing

For breath is life, so if you breathe well you will live long on earth.

Sanskrit Proverb

Anxiety is a normal physiological response to a stressful event or situation. The psychological changes in the body are designed to prepare us for action (fight or flight.) It is useful when we are in a stressful situation as it increases our heart rate, BP and respiratory rate, thereby delivering more oxygen to our body. It also downgrades the gastrointestinal system to divert blood to our muscles. However, when the response is disproportionate to the situation, prolonged, or occurs when there is no stressor, that increase in HR, BP, and RR can be described as symptomatic - palpitations, headaches, feeling faint, breathlessness and abdominal pain. All, you will notice, are common symptoms of anxiety.

We have written before about the effect of breathing on these physical symptoms of anxiety. Breathing exercises to stimulate the Vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, and invoking the relaxation response.

This week we want to share a different breathing exercise - Nadishodhanam or Alternate Nostril Breathing.

Nadishodhanam literally means purification. The Sanskrit translation is energy clearing. It is purported to restore balance to mind and body.

The Yogic discipline teaches that breathing through the right nostril stimulates the logical, left side of the brain and breathing through the left nostril activates the intuitive, creative, right side of the brain. Alternating right and left nostril breathing stimulates both sides and thereby promotes balance.

Studies have confirmed that breathing through the right nostril increases oxygen and blood volume in the left pre-frontal cortex[1]. Electrical studies of the brain after alternate nostril breathing show a balancing effect on the functional activity of the left and right hemispheres[2].

Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to increase peak flow (the measure of how quickly we can exhale) and decrease heart rate, respiratory rate, and diastolic blood pressure[3]. A systemic review of lots of clinical trials reported high level evidence for positive outcomes for cognitive function, with improved memory and performance, and the autonomic and cardiovascular systems[4].

In view of this evidence and the link between the autonomic nervous system and anxiety (the autonomic nervous system drives our fight flight response), researchers proposed that alternate nostril breathing may help alleviate anxiety. They found that, yes, practising alternate nostril breathing has a potential anxiolytic effect in acute stressful situations[5].

Nadishodhanam breathing is an ancient technique that has been proved by science to have a calming, balancing effect both physically and psychologically.

Try this:

Before a stressful event such as a job interview, a meeting at work, public speaking, going on a first date, an exam, or whenever your stress levels rise and you feel anxious, try this exercise

Find a quite comfortable spot

Sit with your spine straight

Breathe out through both nostrils

Rest your index and middle fingers on your brow just above your nose

Using your thumb block the right nostril

Breathe in through the left nostril

Now release the right nostril and block the left nostril with the little and ring finger

Breathe out through the right nostril

Breathe in through the right nostril

Now release the left nostril and block the right nostril

Breathe out through the left nostril

This sequence makes up one cycle of alternate nostril breathing

Continue the cycle for at least 5 minutes

For a deeper look at breathing read Chapter Ten of ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’

[1] Singh K, Bhargav H, Srinivasan TM. Effect of uninostril yoga breathing on brain hemodynamics: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study. Int J Yoga. 2016;9(1):12-19. [2]Stancák A Jr, Kuna M. EEG changes during forced alternate nostril breathing. Int J Psychophysiol. 1994 Oct;18(1):75-9. [3]Upadhyay Dhungel K, Malhotra V, Sarkar D, Prajapati R. Effect of alternate nostril breathing exercise on cardiorespiratory functions. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008 Mar;10(1):25-7. [4]Ghiya, Shreya. (2017). Alternate nostril breathing: a systematic review of clinical trials. International Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 5. 3273. [5]Kamath A, Urval RP, Shenoy AK. Effect of Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise on Experimentally Induced Anxiety in Healthy Volunteers Using the Simulated Public Speaking Model: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:2450670

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