Is alternate nostril breathing the greatest breathing exercise?
The science shows it can lower blood pressure and pulse rate(1), improves manual dexterity(2) and has a balancing effect on the functional activity of the left and right hemispheres of the brain(3). All that just from breathing!
Ever since I learned this from my GYROTONIC® Master Trainers Debra Rose and Juliu Horvath, Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB) has been my favorite of all breathing exercises. When time permits, I’ll end my GYROTONIC® workout with a few rounds of Alternate Nostril Breathing and I always feel more relaxed, grounded and centered afterwards. With the information from the abstracts referenced above, you can see that the feelings of “well being” gained through ANB have physiologic causes. If your brain activity was more balanced left to right and your blood pressure and pulse were decreased, you’d certainly feel more relaxed, grounded and centered!
Also, by bringing about these physical changes, Alternate Nostril Breathing has to be counted among the best breathing exercises to reduce stress.
If your lungs have been compromised through injury or illness, please consult your physician before beginning any focused breath work.
This is a timed, rhythmic breathing exercise.
Timed breathing can help break unconscious breathing habits that have developed over years of not being mindful of your breath. As are all other living things on this planet, we are creatures of habit, without which we could never have survived. However our modern, primarily sedentary lifestyles have caused our breathing to lose it’s natural flow and instead humans frequently develop dysfunctional breathing patterns. One goal of all purposeful breathing exercises is to break these unnatural patterns, allowing the body to breath naturally as the situation requires. The pattern breaking of a forced breathing exercise combined with the physiologic and neurological changes ANB brings about makes me say “Yes, this is the greatest of all breathing exercises.”
Let’s start talking about the “no-breath”.
Previous to this exercise, the breathing exercises we’ve covered had only 3 phases: inhale, retain and exhale. This is the first exercise that adds in the “no-breath”. This is the time between the exhale and the inhale. Even those who take no purposeful notice of their breathing don’t constantly inhale then exhale then inhale then exhale, ad infinitum. You’d look ridiculous and be exhausted. It’s just not efficient. While people may only have a minuscule retaining of the breath, there is always the no-breath period. Our goal is to make the no-breath a purposeful part of your breathing.
The timed breathing pattern of Alternate Nostril Breathing is 1/4/2/2. In other words, one measure of inhale, 4 measures of retaining, 2 measures of exhale and 2 measures of no breath. You can substitute any number for the first number, the inhale, then keep the ratios for the other portions of the breath. A common count is 4/16/8/8.
As you begin, if you’re not used to focusing on the No Breath, you can use a ratio of 4/16/8/4.
How to practice Alternate Nostril Breathing:
- Sitting in a tall but relaxed position, with your hands on your thighs.
- Use the pad of your right index finger to close your right nostril and, using the Complete Breath, inhale for a 4 count.
- Using the thumb and index finger of your right hand, close both nostrils and retain your breath for a 16 count.
- Using the fingernail of your right index finger, close your left nostril and exhale for an 8 count.
- Putting your hand back on your thigh, do a No Breath for a 4 count (8 if you’re advanced).
- On the next breath, repeat all the same steps but with your left hand, closing your left nostril to inhale, etc.
- Repeat as many times as desired, alternating hand use, making sure you end balanced, in other words, if you start by closing your right nostril, your last repetition through should start with your left nostril.
- When you have completed the number of rounds you desire, practice a Cleansing Breath.
Being that this is the first time we’ve added in the No Breath, if you find yourself having difficulty going directly from one cycle of breaths to the next, allow yourself to take a normal Complete Breath between cycles.
Try alternate nostril breathing for several weeks, performing several cycles 3 to 4 times a week. Notice any changes to how you feel. Did the exercise reduce stress? Did it help make you feel more present? Leave a comment below and let us know how & what you feel.
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