One of the oldest practices of Hatha Yoga is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It is often named Nadi Shodana, which means "purifying the channels", and its instruction dates back as many as a thousand years to the Yoga Yajnavalkya. It is arguably the most powerful breathing practice known in yoga. Modern medicine's understanding of the nasal cycle and an exciting new study uncover new meaning in this ancient practice.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes your right nostril seems clogged, and other times the left side does? Our bodies have a natural cycle called the nasal cycle that alternates breathing through each nostril. This helps balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and the body's temperature, as well as helping us smell and humidify the air we breathe. Sometimes we have a dominant nostril, usually because of congenital or accidental blockage of one of the nostrils, so our breathing might be dominated by one side. Studies have shown a correlation between nostril dominance and hemispheric dominance of the brain, meaning that one side of the brain is being stimulated more than the other. Also, it means that one part of the nervous system is being stimulated more than the other.
When we alternate our breathing from one nostril to the other, we encourage balanced stimulation our autonomic nervous system, help regulate the temperature, stress and alertness of our bodies, and even out imbalances that may have developed over years.
A recent study by Dr. B (full name above) shows another exciting aspect of this ancient practice. The subjects in his study chanted and did Alternate Nostril Breathing for 10 minutes. They showed an increase in nerve growth factor (NGF) in their saliva, a chemical that our brain uses to build and repair connections. The reduction of NGF has been linked to Alzheimer's Disease, so it is possible that breathing practices such as Alternate Nostril may lower the risk of Alzheimer's. You can watch Dr. B talk about his study in the video below or read about it here. More research needs to be done, but it is exciting stuff.
Dr. B's study was funded by Pure Action, an organization in Austin, TX that supports many studies about yoga. They are bridging the gap between the ancient lore of yoga practice and modern medical science, something we think is vitally important to the health and growth of the yoga community.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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