How do you practice alternate nostril breathing?

By Sheila Miller | Published: February 26, 2018 | Last updated: April 8, 2018

In the practice of alternate nostril breathing — or nadi shodhana pranayama, as it's known in Sanskrit — we use the fingers to direct the flow of the breath between the nostrils.

(You may be first wondering, How do we control our breath?)

Before You Begin

Your breathing patterns and your mental, emotional and physiological states are intimately linked; your goal is to bring ease and freedom, not constriction and stress. If you feel strain, release the technique and breathe normally until you feel comfortable. Always practice pranayama under the supervision of a qualified pranayama instructor.

Body Posture

You can sit in any stable, comfortable, seated posture, as long as your spine can achieve its full length and your body is balanced right to left, front to back. Many people use cross-legged variations, but you can also sit upright in a chair.

We use the right hand for alternate nostril breathing (unless it's out of commission). Draw your fingers toward your palm, then touch your thumb to your ring finger and pinky, tucking your index and middle fingers beneath them. This is the shape your hand will be in while it touches your nose; your index and middle finger will not be involved.

Now Breathe

Begin breathing comfortably and deeply, establishing your breath as smooth and soft with hands on your thighs. Next, lift your hand to your nose so that your thumb touches your right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers touch the flexible flesh at the base of the cartilage of your left nostril. Don’t block the nostrils yet. Lift your wrist so that your hand is not right in front of your nostrils and relax your shoulder. If you're comfortable, move on to the next step. Otherwise, practice being relaxed in this position.

Alternate the Flow

Exhale all your air out. Gently press your thumb toward the center of your nose to block the right nostril. Breathe in — smooth and soft — through the left nostril. Notice that your fingers are doing all the work for you. There is no need to breathe faster or harder.

At the top of the inhale, gently press your ring and pinky fingers toward the center, blocking both nostrils momentarily. Then release the thumb and exhale gently through the right nostril.

Inhale through the right, then press the thumb toward the center, blocking both nostrils. Then release the ring and pinky fingers, exhaling through the left nostril. This is one full round.

Inhale through the left, gently block both, exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, gently block both, exhale through the left. This is your second round.

Complete six rounds, if you comfortably can. You may gradually increase the number of rounds with practice and the direction of your teacher.

Concluding the Practice

Release your hand to your thigh and allow the breath to return to normal. After sitting for as long as you like, relax into savasana.

(And other than savasana, What are the most relaxing yoga poses?)


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Written by Sheila Miller

Sheila Miller

Sheila Miller, Ph.D., ERYT-500 is a Senior Teacher of ISHTA Yoga and has been a student of yoga and Buddhism for more than 20 years. Her specializations include teaching meditation, asana and yoga nidra for healing, self-knowledge and lasting personal transformation. She researches the effects of meditation and yoga practice on learning, communities, health and the healing of trauma. She also teaches public and private classes, workshops and retreats around the world.

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