Alternate Nostril Breathing

We're excited to introduce to you our new series of instructional videos.  Each month we will feature a new practice that can be implemented throughout your day to help align your mind and body.  Angela Centers, Yoga 4 Change's Director of Programming, will serve as your instructor through this series.  

How Alternate Nostril Breathing Can Help You Find Balance:

The autonomic nervous system controls the insides of the body.  It plays an essential role in keeping the body's internal environment in optimal balance, a condition called homeostasis. The autonomic nervous system has two divisions: the sympathetic division and the parasympathetic division. These two divisions have opposing effects on our bodies.

The sympathetic division is the emergency system. It prepares the body to put out energy and to protect it from effects of injury.  It triggers what is known as the flight, fight or freeze response.  The sympathetic division is exceptionally active if we are experiencing too much stimuli or a mental, emotional or physical trauma. 

The parasympathetic division is the "housekeeping" division. It acts to replace and recover from the activities of living. Its action is the opposite of the sympathetic division, moving us into a relaxed and non-reactive state of being.  

Examples of feelings or behaviors that you may experience when you are below the optimal state of balance include: 

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Clouded thinking

Examples of feelings or behaviors that you may experience when you are above the optimal state of balance include:

  • Scattered thinking
  • Overactive mind
  • Anxiety

Alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana, is a simple yet effective technique that can help settle your mind, body, and emotions. It is particularly helpful to ease racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble falling asleep.

In addition to calming the mind and reversing stress, alternate nostril breathing also:

  • Improves your ability to focus the mind
  • Supports your lungs and respiratory functions
  • Restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and clears the energetic channels
  • Rejuvenates the nervous system
  • Settles stress


Sit in a comfortable seated posture with your spine upright.  Good posture helps ensure that your breath can flow properly through your respiratory system. While seated, set your eyes on something ahead of you.  You can also practice alternate nostril breathing with your eyes closed, if you prefer. 



You can use either your left or right hand.  Relax the hand you don't use and rest it in your lap while you practice the exercise.  Bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. You'll actively use your thumb and ring finger to gently to open and close your nostrils.  

Neutral position (demonstrated with right hand)

Neutral position (demonstrated with right hand)

If using your right hand, inhale through the right nostril while closing off your left nostril using your ring finger. 

Left nostril shut using ring finger (demonstrated with right hand)

Left nostril shut using ring finger (demonstrated with right hand)

On an exhalation, release your ring finger from your left nostril and close your right nostril using your thumb and exhale through your left nostril. Remember to always inhale through the same nostril you just exhaled through.

Right nostril shut using thumb (demonstrated with right hand)

Right nostril shut using thumb (demonstrated with right hand)

Two full breaths are called one round of alternate nostril breath.  Continue rounds for as long as you’d like, checking in with yourself to see how you feel after five rounds. 

Thank you for reading. If you found this information beneficial, please consider making a sustainable donation to Yoga 4 Change.  Your donation is used to support our core programs and helps us fulfill our mission. Please click below to donate online.  You can make a one time or reoccurring tax deductible contribution. 

Patrick Fisher