I have to contain my excitement while writing this post because I LOVE nadi shodhanam. I truly believe it is the most powerful pranayama practice, facilitating the use of the breath to delve deep into your meditation. Not to mention the overabundant benefits in your everyday life.
Admit it – We take breathing for granted. Can you guess how many breaths you take in one day?
So when we talk about balance, we have to begin with the vehicle that drives that very stability not only in the physical plane, but the subtle as well. Humans always struggle with imbalance in their lives, and the root of that imbalance comes from fighting to stabilize the male and female principles within us. And that steadiness can only be achieved with creating homeostasis within the breath first.
Nadi Shodhanam taps into the idea of nostril dominance – the nostrils alternate dominance every 90 to 120 minutes, where the air passes more freely through one nostril than the other, making it the active nostril and the other passive. If you close your eyes and just pay attention to the flow of breath within your nostrils, you will be able to pick out which one is dominant right now – this awareness is one of the pillars of the Nadi Shodhanam practice.
Nadi Shodhanam literally means ‘channel purification’ and is also known as alternate nostril breathing. This pranayama strives to balance the subtle energy channels known as the nadis (72,000 in total – see Beauty and the Breath). The three main nadis that run the length of the spine, starting at the muladhara chakra and enervating the next 5 chakras, are ida, pingala, and sushumna (pronounced sha – shoom – na). The ida nadi terminates in the left nostril, the pingala in the right, and sushumna runs up the center of the spine and terminates at the base of the skull, specifically at the 6th or Ajna Chakra (pronounced A-gya). It is only active when both nostrils are balanced and flowing freely (something that you will see is very difficult to attain and maintain!). Once one is fully rested in sushumna, then the real practice of meditation begins!
The symbol for medicine: the Caduceus.
A direct representation of the ancient
knowledge of the nadis
Left Nostril Dominance Right Nostril Dominance
Cooling Increased Body Heat
Nourishing Expending Energy
Elimination of Toxins Strength
Unblocks and balances flow of vital energy in left and right channels of spine
Calms the nervous system
Promotes a clear, calm and tranquil mind – helps overcome mood swings
Eliminates impurities in physical and subtle channels of the body
Excellent preparation for meditation
Points of Practice
1. Sit in a posture that keeps the head neck and torso upright and aligned, facilitating ease in diaphragmatic breathing (Sukhasana, siddhasana, vajrasana etc.)
2. Use Vishnu Mudra (right hand) to alternate opening and closing of nostrils Vishnu Mudra
3. Block one nostril and exhale and inhale evenly and smoothly through the opposite nostril.
4. Then change nostrils and exhale and inhale again, maintaining the same breath count.
5. Repeat until you have taken three breaths through both nostrils, ending with alternate nostril.
6. Then lower the hand and breathe three times through both nostrils. This constitutes one round.
7. Repeat two more rounds.
Click here to listen to a fantastic audio instruction of Nadi shodhanam provided by one of the best institutions on yoga science and philosophy, the Himalayan Institute.
Use the Illustration below to help guide your nadi shodhanam practice: