Need a Quick Mental Reset? Try Alternate Nostril Breathing

Dec 7, 2023

By Christine Saari, MA, C-IAYT

You may have heard of alternate nostril breathing, a simple yet powerful ancient Yoga technique that has garnered renewed attention with the growing popularity of breathwork in supporting overall health. Also known as “nadi shodhana”, this traditional practice offers numerous contemporary health advantages. If you haven’t tried it yet, and you are feeling stressed, now could be your moment to check it out.

Let’s explore the whys and hows behind this particular breathwork trend, examining the potential benefits and how you can easily integrate alternate nostril breathing into your wellness routine. 

Plus, discover why yoga therapists often recommend nasal breathing for specific physical and mental health conditions, tailoring this practice to the needs of the individual. 

Alternate Nostril Breathing: Your New Breath Friend

Are you ready to clear away unnecessary mental clutter, and embrace clarity and peace of mind? If the demands of planning and doing become overwhelming, consider trying this age-old technique to tap into your inner reset button. 

The Benefits of Nasal Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a type of mindful nasal breathing which has been associated with both physical and mental health benefits. Read about the science behind nasal breathing here for a deeper understanding, and learn about its use by yoga therapists with neurology patients.

The Physical Benefits

The physical benefits of nasal breathing are numerous. Nasal breathing enhances respiratory efficiency, engaging the diaphragm, optimizing lung capacity, and promoting cardiovascular health through efficient blood flow and oxygenation. 

The Mental Benefits

The mental benefits are significant as well, and include stress reduction, anxiety management, improved focus, and enhanced clarity of thought. That’s great news if you are feeling the effects of chronic stress on your mental health. 

Nasal breathing practices like alternate nostril breathing are frequently used by yoga therapists to support mental health for clients feeling overwhelmed, confused, fearful, or unfocused.

The Neurological Benefits

In the realm of neurological health, alternate nostril breathing promotes bilateral brain stimulation, enhancing cognitive function, and contributing to a balanced autonomic nervous system, fostering better coping mechanisms in the face of daily stressors.

A Little Breathwork Goes A Long Way

The best part is, remarkably quick and effective, nasal breathing practices such as alternate nostril breathing often yield transformative results in under 5 minutes. 

The Yoga Philosophy Behind Alternate Nostril Breathing (aka Nadi Shodhana)

Alternate nostril breathing is referred to as “nadi shodhana” in the Yogic canon of traditional practices that have been passed down from teacher to student for centuries. The term “nadi” translates to channel, and “shodhana” signifies purification. The practice is thought to have a regulating effect on the practitioner, and was traditionally used to prepare the body and mind for meditation.

In the Yogic tradition, nadis represent energetic pathways allowing the flow of prana, or life force energy. Modern interpretations liken these pathways to neurological connections. For instance, the “pingala” is one of the two main nadis. The pingala includes the energetic pathway engaging the right nostril and the left hemisphere of the brain. It is characterized by active and extroverted energy. Conversely, the “ida” is the other main nadi. The Ida is thought to include the connection between the left nostril and right hemisphere of the brain. It embodies passive and introverted energy. Explore how contemporary scientific studies resonate with this age-old wisdom by delving into further details here.

In times of transition or overwhelm, “busyness” prevails, and stress mounts as pingala energy dominates. Alternate nostril breathing acts like a brain computer reboot, and serves as a quick remedy to restore balance. 

The practice of nadi shodhana involves breathing alternately through the nostrils, disrupting the energetic status quo and effectively resetting the nervous system. This conscious regulation of breath, typically an unconscious process, facilitates a physiological reset.

How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing: Step By Step

For those new to the practice, try it at home using this step by step guide to assist you. Make sure you don’t have any relevant medical contraindications.

Sit Comfortably:

Begin by finding a comfortable seated position. You could sit on the floor with crossed legs or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. You could try lying down if sitting is not comfortable for you.

Straighten Your Spine:

Lengthen your spine and invite your shoulders to relax.

Hand Position:

Next, position your right thumb to be ready to open and close your right nostril. Position your right ring finger to be ready to open and close your left nostril. Your index and middle fingers can rest gently on your forehead or between your eyebrows.

Begin Breathing:

Start by closing your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale slowly and gently through your left nostril.

Switch Sides:

Then, close your left nostril with your right ring finger, release the right nostril, and exhale completely through your right nostril.

Reverse the Breath:

Inhale steadily through your right nostril. Close your right nostril again, release the left nostril, and exhale through your left nostril using a long relaxed exhalation.


Continue this pattern, alternating nostrils with each breath cycle. The inhalation and exhalation should be slow, steady, and controlled, yet also they should feel easy and sustainable. Never force the breathing. Always prioritize ease and gentleness when working with this practice.

Complete the Cycle:

Aim for 5 to 10 minutes of practice, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable. Finish the practice by completing the cycle with an exhalation through the left nostril.

Sit and Notice the Effects:

Finally, reflect on the practice, noticing its effects on your system. 

Experiment with durations, starting with two to five minutes and adjusting as needed. Nadi Shodhana may not be your cup of tea, and that’s ok. This can be especially true if you have conditions like a deviated septum or trauma. Instead, you might explore alternative practices for energetic balance, such as the Joint Freeing Series, Five Kosha Yoga Nidra or Prana Nidra.

Why Yoga Therapists Often Recommend Nasal Breathing

Yoga therapists often recommend nasal breathing due to its proven ability to optimize respiratory function, promote cardiovascular health, and influence brain activity. This makes nasal breathing a versatile and tailored approach for addressing specific physical and mental health conditions in individuals.

Additionally, yoga therapists may recommend nasal breathing practices such as alternate nostril breathing for conditions such as stroke, brain surgery recovery, and traumatic brain injury. They are able to tailor these techniques to enhance respiratory efficiency and support neurological rehabilitation. Additionally, nasal breathing may prove beneficial for individuals with psychogenic conditions to help address symptoms.

Nasal breathing is a valuable and personalized tool in a yoga therapist’s repertoire. Yoga therapists favor nasal breathing such as alternate nostril breathing for its versatility, allowing them to adapt and customize these techniques to meet the unique needs of individual clients and specific conditions.

Alternate Nostril Breathing As A Daily Wellness Routine

If you decide to try alternate nostril breathing and you enjoy the experience, consider incorporating it into your daily routine. It may help combat stress, especially during transitional seasons. Experiment with dosage and technique to find what works for you. Discover for yourself the benefits of this simple, quick healing practice.

Amidst the inevitable changes within life’s daily rhythms, welcome yourself to pause, stay present, and try adopting a short breath practice to restore balance and invite wellness.

Dealing with more serious health challenges and wondering if breathwork could help? 

Consider working with a yoga therapist to discover whether a nasal breathing practice tailored to your particular needs could help. Yoga therapists are able to work with your preferences to help you find a therapeutic practice that works best for you.

About Us

Yoga Therapy Associates provides yoga therapy for individuals suffering from physical and mental chronic health conditions. Yoga Therapy Associates offers yoga therapy at four locations in Connecticut and via telehealth.

Are you interested in learning more about how yoga therapy can help you? It would be a pleasure to get to know you. Book a complimentary phone consultation today.

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