Kaysha is a holistic wellness enthusiast with a meditation teacher certification and an appreciation for DIY projects.
Breath-work is an effective tool for stress management and rejuvenation. There are many known techniques, and one such exercise is alternate nostril breathing. This technique essentially provides a very unique benefit in that it helps to purify the breath and quickly restores equilibrium. Moreover, it quiets the mind as well as calms and re-energizes the nervous system.
Alternate nostril breathing can be part of a meditation practice or done by itself. However, the objective of this exercise is simply to: inhale through one nostril, retain the breath, and then exhale through the other nostril.
This breathing technique, therefore, allows for an even flow of oxygen which balances the brain’s hemispheres.
Balancing the Hemispheres of the Brain
There are two sides of the brain—the left and right hemispheres. Most individuals have the tendency to use one hemisphere of the brain more than the other. The left side of the brain processes in a logical and analytical way. However, the right hemisphere, is more creative and intuitive.
When both hemispheres are in unison, the result is whole brain synchronization. Studies show that this balance produces a beneficial hemispheric blood flow that results in a stronger, yet more peaceful mind. So while an unbalanced brain wave makes a person more prone to anxiety, depression and addictions, on the other hand, more brain harmony, results in improved memory, better cognitive performance and an overall more positive outlook.
Breathing and the Nervous System
The nervous system is a set of nerves and cells (neurons) that send signals to and from the brain and spinal cord to many parts of the body. There are two main components—the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The brain and spinal cord are what constitute the central nervous system. Whereas the peripheral nervous system is located just outside of the central nervous system and its job is to connect it (the central nervous system) to the rest of the body. It includes the somatic and the autonomic nervous systems.
The somatic nervous system is associated with voluntary muscle movements. It consists of sensory and motor nerves. Meanwhile the autonomic nervous system is very significant when we talk about breathing. It includes the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Essentially, both these systems have a balancing effect on each other. For instance, the parasympathetic system allows the body to efficiently utilize energy by doing things like slowing down the heart rate and encouraging digestive activity. The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, basically works to raise the heart rate, as well as the blood circulation and breathing rates. So in other words, the sympathetic system allows “fight or flight” to occur; but after the moment has passed, the parasympathetic nervous system allows rest and digestion.
We see, therefore, that the breath and the nervous system are essentially linked. In fact, abnormal breathing patterns occur in disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. Still stress normally plays a major role in abnormal breathing.
Basically, while proper breathing should be a normal function, for most of us, over the course of our lives due to stress and other factors, our breathing becomes more and more shallow.
Yet studies show that conscious deep breathing can elicit the relaxation response. Coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, he defines this response as: “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress and the opposite of the fight or flight response.”
So in essence, a proper breathing technique such as alternative nostril breathing can not only assist in cleansing and reviving the nervous system, but also bring about an immediate calm and balance to our system. Yet furthermore, its assistance in balancing the left and right brain also helps to support one’s physical and mental well-being.
How to Do Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Gently make a fist with your right hand.
- Press down on the right nostril with your right thumb, and then inhale through the left nostril.
- Close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger; remove your thumb from the right nostril, and then exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril.
- Close the right nostril with your right thumb, and then exhale through the left nostril.
Note: Do not do this breathing technique if your nasal passages are blocked or if you have a cold.
Finally, remember to consult your doctor or other license health-care practitioner prior to engaging in any new exercise or health regimen.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Kaysha Sahai Reid (author) on February 14, 2019:
Thanks so much, Deborah. Yes, it's such a beneficial exercise.
Deborah Demander Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on February 14, 2019:
This is a fantastic article. I've done a lot of research and study regarding the parasympathetic nervous system and healing trauma. This article is spot-on!
Thank you for writing such a clear, concise and easy to understand article. I'd encourage everyone to practice alternate nostril breathing.
Thanks for writing!