When a student recently asked me about our alternate nostril breathing practice, I explained that it actually helps to create synapses in the brain between the left and right hemisphere. This was not exactly the answer anyone expected. :)
Alternate nostril breathing is a breathing exercise (pranayama) to help restore imbalances in your brain. It is a relaxing technique, usually practiced at the beginning or end of a class and will leave the practitioner feeling refreshed and alert. It's not just bringing extra oxygen into your blood and brain, there's some very interesting science behind it.
Your nostrils contain nerve endings that are directly linked to your brain and nervous system. Breathing in through your left nostril will stimulate the right “feeling ” hemisphere of the brain for increased alertness, while breathing in only through the right will stimulate the left “thinking” hemisphere and calm the mind. A little memory hook, right nostril = relax, left = alert
Research has shown that we all tend to favor one nostril or the other throughout the day. You may notice it sometimes and it may switch every few hours or so, but we don't always breathe openly through both nostrils. It has also been found that during times of congestion, brain activity on the hemisphere linked to the less congested nostril is more active than the clogged up nostril and corresponding hemisphere. (Now you know why you feel so dopey when you get a bad head cold and both nostrils are obstructed)
Consciously alternating your breath between nostrils activates the brain as a whole for increased function and helps to correct these imbalances in nostril functioning and brain functioning. Cool, huh? Here are some of the main impressive benefits of this pranayama:
Maybe it's just me, but I definitely think I could use some extra brain function sometimes. :) Alternate nostril breathing is not complicated to practice, it's just a slow intentional deep breathing technique. If you'd like to try it, follow the directions below.
Alternate nostril breathing is safe for most people to practice, but under no circumstances should anything be forced. As with any pranayama exercise, if you feel too congested or if you ever begin to feel light headed for any reason, please stop and return your breathing to normal.
This pranayama is a great option for that little mid-afternoon boost. So maybe next time you're ready to turn to coffee or caffeinated soda, try a few rounds of caffeine and sugar-free alternate nostril breathing.
For more interesting articles and studies on alternate nostril breathing and its immediate effects on the brain, metabolic processes and immune system, check here.