Alternate nostril breathing is a powerful breathing technique that helps you to feel relaxed, energised and emotionally balanced. It can be practiced by anyone and is a safe breathing technique for pregnancy and postpartum.

In Yoga, this technique is called Nadi Shodhana or Nadi Shuddhi. Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘subtle energy channel’ and Shodhana or Shuddhi means to clean/purify.

Our energy channels need to be open for us to be in good physical and mental health.

But they can get blocked because of stress, toxins or emotional upheavals. These blockages can manifest both physically and emotionally including low energy, depression or sluggishness, anger, itchiness and dry skin, to name a few.

What are the benefits?

  1. Reduce stress and anxiety
  2. Release tension and tiredness
  3. Improve cardiovascular function – significantly lowers heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure
  4. May help with shortness of breath during pregnancy
  5. Promotes overall health and wellbeing
  6. Helps you to access a deeper mediation

How does it work?

As the name suggests, with this breathing technique we breathe through one nostril at a time, regulating the flow of air through that nasal passage by blocking the opposite nostril, and then switch sides.

Inhaling through the left nostril accesses the right ‘feeling’ side of the brain and triggers the rest/relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system).

Inhaling through the right nostril accesses the left ‘thinking’ side of the brain and stimulates the fight/flight response (sympathetic nervous system).

So when you breathe through the left nostril you make yourself more relaxed, and when you breathe through the right nostril you energise yourself.

Combining the two creates balance and harmony in both sides of the brain and body.

So when you breathe through the left nostril you make yourself more relaxed, and when you breathe through the right nostril you energise yourself.

Combining the two creates balance and harmony in both sides of the brain and body.

How do you do it?

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, either cross-legged or kneeling on the floor, or seated in a chair. If you’re sitting cross-legged you may like to sit on a cushion or block.
  2. Spine should be tall, belly and shoulders relaxed
  3. Bring your right hand towards your nose, resting your thumb on your right nostril, your index finger and middle finger in the space between your eyebrows, and your ring finger and little finger rest on your left nostril. There are other ways of placing your fingers, so if something else feels more comfortable or natural to you, you can do it a different way, this is just how I like to do it.
  4. Take a deep breath in and out through both nostrils
  5. Block the right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril, slowly and deeply
  6. Block the left nostril, release the right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril, slowly and deeply
  7. Keeping the left nostril blocked, breathe in through the right nostril slowly and deeply
  8. Block the right nostril, release the left nostril and breathe out through the left nostril
  9. This is one round. Repeat steps 5 – 8 for around 2-3 minutes.

You may find instructions on the internet that Nadi Shodhana includes breath retention. It is super important that during pregnancy you DO NOT HOLD THE BREATH. Simply follow the instructions above.

You may like to count the breath, breathing in for the count of 3, 4 or even 5 to ensure the inhalation and exhalations are equal. Once you have mastered this, you may like to change the ratio so that you exhalations become longer than the inhalations. At all times though, keep it calm, comfortable and not forced.

What if my nose feels stuffy?

Many women experience congestion during pregnancy thanks to the increased estrogen and blood flow swelling the membranes in your nose and creating more mucous. If that’s you, this breathing technique might not work so well for you!

Here’s a variation you can try instead, which has similar effect of balancing the mind and body:

  1. Sit in your comfortable position
  2. Spine should be tall, belly and shoulders relaxed
  3. Place your hands on your knees, palms open and facing upwards
  4. Take a deep breath in and out through both nostrils
  5. Make a fist with the right hand as you imagine breathing in through your left nostril, slowly and deeply
  6. Make a fist with the left hand, open the right hand and breathe out through the right nostril, slowly and deeply
  7. Keeping the hands as they are, breathe in through the right nostril slowly and deeply
  8. Make a fist with the right hand, open the left hand and breathe out through the left nostril
  9. This is one round. Repeat steps 5 – 8 for around 2-3 minutes.

Benefits of prenatal yoga

Got questions about this breathing technique? Has it helped you? Leave a comment below!