The nasal cycle is a normal and natural alternating shift in the amount of air rushing through each nostril – a tidal increase and decrease in volume. The presence of the nasal cycle maintains and regulates hormones, neurotransmitters, digestion, detoxification, cardiovascluar system, immune and inflammatory responses, sleep and wakefulness and their circadian rhythms, alertness, focus, memory, emotions, and even consciousness.
How To Increase Nasal Cycle Benefits
All of the benefits of the nasal cycle are reinforced and promoted (up-regulated) by a yoga breathing method – nadi shodhan pranayama – commonly known as alternate nostril breathing (ANB). The effects of practicing ANB are so readily observable that it has inspired a lot of interest from researchers and clinicians and there has been a lot of research looking into the effects of ANB on various measures of health.
Much of the research has focused on the tonic effect of alternate nostril breathing on increasing parasympathetic nervous system tone which regulates internal body functions globally.1,2
Impaired parasympathetic (PS) tone is extremely common for most people and has significant detrimental effects on health and increased PS tone results in significantly improved body functions for most people.3
Typical benefits from increasing PS tone include a slightly tonic effect on the mind (mood, focus), relaxing effect on the body as a whole (muscle relaxation, lower respiration rate, lower blood pressure, skin warming (vasodilation)) and improved internal regulation (digestion, elimination, hormones, detoxification, sleep quality, circadian rhythms).
Particularly interesting is that inspiration through the right nostril alone increases tone of the stimulating (sympathetic) branch of the autonomic nervous system and inspiration through the left nostril alone increases the relaxing (PS) branch and this is exactly the effect attributed to ANB from traditional yoga writing.4
My Direct Experience
Alternate nostril breathing was incredibly effective in helping me heal from ulcerative colitis as a teen. That experience and research led me to have patients use ANB to support their healing and health from the begiining of my practice. About 20 years ago I did an in-clinic study of various relaxation, meditation, biofeedback and relaxation techniques for their effects on heart rate variability – a standard method used in research to measure PS tone. There were 100 subjects in the study and the alternate nostril breathing clearly came out the winner for both reliability of response and degree of shift in PS tone increase.
Because of my observation over a 45 year period, alternate nostril breathing is my “go to” method for increasing PS tone and improving body functions.
To fully appreciate how important all of this is for you,
consider that nearly every non-traumatic illness that we can suffer from
needs increased parasympathetic tone to promote healing
and alternate nostril breathing is the most reliable
thing you can do increase your parasympathetic tone.
How To Do It – Alternate Nostril Breathing
Practicing this breathing method is done by inhaling through the right nostril, exhaling through the left nostril, inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right nostril. This represents one full cycle of alternate nostril breathing (ANB). Breath in deeply letting your “belly” expand and breath out fully. Breath with an even pace in and out – metronomic breathing.
Occlude the nostril opposite the “active” nostril which is inspiring/expiring air with your finger(s). An efficent and restful approach to occluding each nostril is to rest the finger tips/pads of your second and third finger between your eyebrows. Your thumb will be able to easily occlude one nostril as needed and your fourth and fifth fingers the other.
Results are enhanced by paying close attention to the pattern and process of your breathing. Doing this is practicing mindfulness of your alternate nostril breathing. Think only of what you are doing.
Some practice may be required before seeing beneficial effects.With practice, more relaxing and, interestingly, tonic effects will be experienced. This conforms my personal and clinical observation and research.5
How Much and How Often
Most people suffer from being in a constantly stressed state. Most of us have been trained to be in an ever-present hypervigilant state. It all makes us sick, keeps us sick or limits the level of health we could otherwise enjoy. Using ANB regularly – making it a habit – is a remarkably effective tool to restore, protect and enhance your health.
Typically, people notice a distinct sense of relaxation after 3-4 cycles of alternate nostril breathing. This is good and the benefits will be more profound when practicing for 10-20 minutes.
Each time you practice ANB you are reinforcing the relaxed state you experience from practice. Repetition reinforces the relaxed (PS) state.
When using alternate nostril breathing to overcome illness or build your health to a higher level, use ANB for longer periods and more frequently. And, as you get better, you can use ANB to support and optimize your health – once or twice a day and for 5-20 minutes depending on how you feel. Over time you will know what is optimal for you. You may need ANB less when you have less stress and you may find more helps you when under more stress.
Please experiment with this alternate nostril breathing and I am sure – based on 45 years of observation and research – you will find it makes your life better and brighter.
1 Sinha, A.N., Deepak, D. & Gusain, V.S., 2013, Assessment of the effects of pranayama/alternate nostril breathing on the parasympathetic nervous system in young adults, Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 7(5), pp. 821-3.
2 Telles, S., Sharma, S.K. & Balkrishna, A., 2014, Blood pressure and heart rate variability during yoga-based alternate nostril breathing practice and breath awareness, Med Sci Monit Basic Res, 20, pp. 184-93.
3 Thayer, J.F. & Sternberg, E., 2006, Beyond heart rate variability: vagal regulation of allostatic systems, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1088, pp. 361-72.
4 Bhavanani, A.B., Ramanathan, M., Balaji, R. & Pushpa, D., 2014, Differential effects of uninostril and alternate nostril pranayamas on cardiovascular parameters and reaction time, International journal of yoga, 7(1), pp. 60-5.
5 Subramanian, R.K., P R, D. & P, S., 2016, Alternate Nostril Breathing at Different Rates and its Influence on Heart Rate Variability in Non Practitioners of Yoga, Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 10(1), pp. CM01-2.