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.
1/6/2017 05:26:59 am
Thanks for the insight,and all that you both are doing to promote Ghosh Yoga and Pranayama practice.
9/17/2020 02:33:35 am
May I ask the meaning of dominance of one side over the other meaning? i.e: if the right is the dominant: that means that SNS or the PNS is the dominant one?
Scott (Ghosh Yoga)
9/23/2020 04:17:18 pm
When the right nostril is dominant, it encourages SNS stimulation. When the left nostril is dominant, it encourages PNS stimulation.
3/15/2022 10:38:01 am
Ida (Ghosh Yoga)
3/15/2022 11:22:49 pm
Thanks, Frances! Your links are correct. They must have changed since this blog was first published. We're glad to hear you're researching this!
Leave a Reply.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
- The 113 Postures of Ghosh Yoga
- Make the Hamstrings Strong, Not Long
- Understanding Chair Posture
- Lock the Knee History
- It Doesn't Matter If Your Head Is On Your Knee
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- 5 Reasons To Backbend
- Origins of Standing Bow
- The Traditional Yoga In Bikram's Class
- What About the Women?!
- Through Bishnu's Eyes
- Why Teaching Is Not a Personal Practice