Breathe Your Way Back into Balance
Find balance this holiday season by resetting your subtle energy. Together, we’ll practise Alternate Nostril Breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. This breath calms the mind, reduces anxiety, lowers the heart rate and brings a feeling of relaxation to the entire body. It also synchronises both hemispheres of the brain and purifies the subtle energy channels (nadis) of the body so our life force energy (prana) can flow more freely.
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If your mental health could use some extra TLC right now, you’ll definitely want to put this one in your self-care toolkit. I know the holidays are a busy time and we can often feel frazzled, stressed and depleted. The best part is, you can do this anywhere to shift your perspective and stay grounded this holiday season.
If you’re new to the practice, then as the name suggests, we breathe alternately through the nostrils. That’s because each nostril is connected to a specific type of energy, side of the brain and subtle energy channel.
There are three primary nadis through which prana flows. The Sushumna Nadi is the main, central channel and runs from the base of the spine to the crown. The Ida and Pingala Nadis spiral around the Sushumna, crossing each other at every chakra. You can imagine the nadis flowing like water, trying to find the path of least resistance and nourishing everything in their path. If there are blockages in other nadis, prana is unable to flow freely through the Sushumna which can lead to mental and physical imbalances.
Alternate Nostril Breathing can be used to balance Ida and Pingala energies because it has a direct effect on the flow of energy through the nadis. When both are balanced, the Sushumna opens, allowing access to higher consciousness, joy, freedom and inner peace.
The breath drawn in through the left nostril corresponds with the Ida Nadi which begins and ends on the left side of the spine and impacts the right hemisphere of the brain. The current of energy is cooling, like the moon and the nurturing, yin, feminine aspect of energy known as Shakti. You can visualise it as white in colour. Nourishing this nadi activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s relaxation response and inspires creativity and intuition. Ida energy is calming and comforting, but when overly dominant, it can lead to feelings of depression. As well as focusing on the breath, invigorating yoga poses like backbends, standing poses, inversions and twists can balance this energy.
When the breath is drawn in through the right nostril, this corresponds with the Pingala Nadi which begins and ends on the right side of the spine and impacts the left hemisphere of the brain. The current of energy is warming, like the sun and the yang, masculine aspect of energy known as Shiva. You can visualise it as red in colour. Nourishing this nadi activates the sympathetic nervous system, the body’s stress response and is associated with logic and linear thinking. Pingala energy is energising but when overly dominant it can lead to burnout. Besides the breath, calming yoga poses like seated postures and forward bends can balance this energy.
Let’s try this now together.
Find a comfortable seat and rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing up towards the sky. Take a moment to set your intention here and ask yourself: how do I want to feel after this practice? Perhaps it’s calmer, balanced, clear, focused or energised…
Whatever it is, surrender that now and bring your awareness to your breath. Breathe in and out through both nostrils. Inhale fully and exhale completely. Two more times like that.
Now make a peace sign with the first two fingers of your dominant hand. Either place your peace fingers on your third eye, in between the eyebrows, like you’re giving yourself a little Reiki touch. Or, you can fold them down into the palm of your hand in Mrigi Mudra. This clears space for you to use your ring finger and thumb to open and close the nostrils.
For a visual of this, check out the video below in the resources.
If it’s hard to hold your arm up, you can place a bolster across your legs and rest your elbow there for support.
We’ll begin by breathing through the left nostril. (This order is prescribed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 2.7-10). I also believe this creates a calming, clearing quality of breath, which is helpful at this time of year.
Gently close your right nostril with your thumb (or ring finger, depending on which is your dominant hand). Inhale slowly through your left nostril, filling up your belly, then close it with your ring finger (or thumb). Pause, holding the breath, then open and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then release the hand mudra and let your breath flow easily through both nostrils. Notice how you feel.
If at any time you feel dizzy, lightheaded or uncomfortable, let go of this pattern and return to your natural breath.
Practised regularly, this breathing technique will bring your energy back into balance, create emotional equilibrium and greater self-awareness, clearing the way for spiritual growth.
If you need a moment to clear out and slow down this Christmas, turn to this breath. Enjoy what’s around you and allow yourself to be in the moment. Take the time to make it all matter.
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