Alternate Nostril Breathing: one powerful way to improve your focus and actually relieve anxiety

Beginner YogaMigrainesYogaYoga Therapy
April 11, 2023

Have you had one of those moments where you sit down hoping to knock out the 3 things you must get done before the end of the day, but you can’t even concentrate because the squirrels in your head won’t stop talking?

Enter: Alternate nostril breathing – Nadi Shodhana – it’s a great way to help you calm your mind, find focus, and relax5.

Alternate nostril breathing has so many benefits, even if you’re not looking to get some work done.  Studies on Nadi Shodhana found it can help reduce your heart rate1, blood pressure2, stress1, and anxiety3 as well as improve your memory4, increase your concentration2, and improve your strength and endurance5.

Give it a try and see for yourself! Already know how to do it? Read on for other variations and tips to keep your arm lifted.

How to do Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Set the scene:

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit, lay, or strike a yoga pose.
  2. Turn off all distractions. 
  3. If you need to – set a timer.

Hand placement:

  1. Place the index and middle fingers of the right hand between the brows (or create Vishnu Mudra)
Vishnu Mudra
  1. Right thumb lightly makes contact with the outside of the right nostril.
  2. Right ring finger lightly makes contact with the outside of the left nostril.
  3. Left arm can rest comfortably palm up on the left thigh, or try these options.

Step-by-step instructions for Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

  1. Gently press the left nostril to restrict the airflow (but not enough to make the two sides touch) with the ring finger.
  2. Exhale through the right nostril.
  3. Inhale through the right nostril.
  4. Release the pressure off of the left nostril.
  5. Gently press the right nostril to restrict the airflow but not enough to make the two sides touch) with the tumb.
  6. Exhale through the left nostril.
  7. Inhale through the left nostril
  8. Release the pressure off of the right nostril.
  9. Repeat from step 1

Pro Tips:

Variations of Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)

The instructions described above, and in the video, are for the most commonly studied and taught method. Variations on alternate nostril breathing are described below, but not all of the variations described below produce a relaxation response. I recommend you stick to the method above and only try the ones below when instructed by a qualified instructor.


Instead of alternating between each breath cycle, try breathing in and out of the right nostril for 3 or 5 rounds, then do the same number of rounds with the left nostril.

Time of the day

I know under Pro Tips I said it didn’t matter what nostril you start from; this is only an option if you want to take your practice further. References in yogic texts say to start with the left nostril in the morning and the right nostril at night. This involves the two nadis, or channels, Ida and Pingala. Pingala, the right channel, is responsible for the warm masculine energy. Ida, the left channel, is responsible for cool feminine energy. As things start to cool down at night, you may want to warm things up breathing in the right side first to find balance, and the reverse in the morning. An easy way to remember which-is-which is “right at night.”

As you practice Nadi Shodhana more, you may notice one nostril feels more open than the other, and it may switch throughout the day. Try to start your alternate nostril breathing practice with the inhale through the more open nostril.

Lengthen the exhale

As with all pranayama (breathing) practices to increase the parasympathetic nervous system activation (the relax response), when you lengthen the exhale, it helps to increase the response. It’s simple to add into alternate nostril breathing; you can “feel it out,” or you can count your breath and add an extra count or beat to the exhale to reap the benefits.

And hold – The Kumbhaka

Kumbhaka is a form of breath retention. In Nadhi Shodhana, the pause (kumbhaka) can be placed at the end of the inhale, exhale, or both. This practice does not induce a relaxation response, so it’s best learned (and practiced) under the direction and supervision of a qualified instructor in a live setting.

Raise your hand: How to keep your arm lifted… with ease

Holding your arm up for 10 breaths might not be too terrible, but holding it up for 10 min!!! My arm would fall out of the socket! So what do you do if you love nadi shodhana and want to practice for a longer amount of time? Try the suggestions below.

Hold yourself

Use your left arm to help hold up your right arm. You can do a self-hug and hold onto your right shoulder with your left hand and allow your right arm to be cradled in the crook of the left elbow. Another option is to hold the right elbow with the left arm. This is a great solution for a short length of time, but anything longer than a few minutes might leave both arms begging for some support.

Use your left arm to support your right arm while practicing nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or other pranayamas

Try yoga

Any yoga pose where your head is about a forearm’s length distance from the floor that you can comfortably sit in for several minutes. (Ok, maybe not any pose) Some easy suggestions: pigeon pose (eka pada raja kapotasana), cobblers pose, sphinx, or wide leg forward fold.

Try various yoga positions to support your arm while practicing nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or other pranayamas

Lay it on the table

If you’re seated at a desk, lean forward and use the table to support your arm. Desks are not the only solution here; if you’re seated on the floor, you can use a coffee table or chair for support.

Use a table or chair to support your arm while practicing nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or other pranayamas

When not to do it

The oodles of reasons to practice alternate nostril breathing are mentioned above (and in the resources below), but here are a few times not to do the practice:

When should you do it

Nadi Shodhana is often said to “balance” the nervous system. When you extend the exhale, or mindfully practice this pranayama, it creates a parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system response. This response helps lower heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety, as shown in the studies below.

In a yogic context, “Nadi” means “channel” or “flow,” and “Shodhana” means “purification.” The breathing practice cleanses the nadis: ida, pingala, and shushumna nadi.

There is no one right time to do nadhi shodhana. You can practice daily, once per week, or once in a blue moon. Below are a few suggestions on when to do the practice:

And there you have it! It may take a little concentration at first (hopefully the squirrels can be quiet long enough to get the breathing going), but alternate nostril breathing is an easy practice to add to your daily life.

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