Exploring the practice of nadi shodhana and the positive effects it can have on our health and wellbeing
What is nadi shodhana?
In yoga, nadi shodhana is a form of pranayama practice or breath regulation where we alternate the flow of air between the two nostrils. Translated from Sanskrit nadi means ‘channel’, ‘stream’ or ‘flow’ and shodhana – ‘to cleanse or purify’.
On a physical level, the nadis can be compared to arteries, veins, capillaries, nerves etc., carrying oxygenated blood, water, vital nutrients and nerve impulses around the body, thus helping to maintain a state of homeostasis (equilibrium or balance).
On a more subtle level, the nadis are channels for vital energy or life force (prana) and have an important role in consciousness and spiritual realization.
According to Ayurvedic texts, the nadis can become blocked by stress, negativity, doshic imbalances, toxins and an unhealthy lifestyle.
The three main nadis
Pingala – flows through right nostril. It is associated with the sun energy, having more masculine quality and represents the extrovert (active) side of our nature. Pingala corresponds to the left hemisphere of the brain (connected to logic and linear thinking) and right side of the body.
Ida – flows through the left nostril. It is associated with the moon energy, having a more feminine quality and represents the introspective side of our nature. Ida corresponds to the right hemisphere of the brain (connected to imagination, creativity and intuition) and left side of the body.
Sushumna – the central energy channel in the subtle body, which allows the movement of prana once Ida and Pingala are both clear and balanced (equally open). The flow of prana through sushumna causes consciousness, or kundalini, to rise leading to self-realization (Oneness of being).
In traditions such as Tantra it’s believed that the movement of kundalini from base of the spine all the way to the head results in the union of feminine and muscular energy which takes us out of duality and back to our own state of divinity.
Benefits of nadhi shodhana according to yoga philosophy
- Unblocks and purify the nadis (subtle energy channels)
- Balances the flow of prana (vital energy) through the Pingala and Ida nadis
- Facilitates the movement of prana through the Sushumna nadi (the central energy channel) and thus prepare practitioner for meditation and the achievement of higher level of consciousness or ‘Oneness of being’ state.
Physiological benefits of nadhi shodhana
- Lowers heart rate and balances blood pressure
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety and stress
- Enhances and supports the respiratory system
- Centers and focuses the mind, improving concentration, memory and clarity of thought
- Helps to relieve headaches/ migraines
- Stimulates both left and right hemisphere the brain helping to restore balance between mental and physical functions, and emotions
- Improves sleep
- Can help clear and release toxins
Nadi Shodhana Contradictions
- Cold, flu, fever
- Blocked sinuses
- Full stomach
How to practice nadhi shodhana
- Blow your nose to clear any blockages.
- Take a comfortable seat, either on the floor, on a cushion or a chair, making sure spine is upright and chest open.
- Keep the mouth closed but jaw and facial muscles relaxed.
- Take a deep inhalation into the sides of the ribcage followed by a slow, gentle exhalation.
There are a few different variations of this practice with or without breath retention and hand gestures. Here is a simple one to try:
- Rest your left hand on to your knee palm down or relax it comfortably into your lap.
- Take your right hand in-front of the face and bring your index and middle finger on the third eye point, between your eyebrows.
- Rest your thumb over the right nostril and ring finger over the left.
- Inhale through both nostrils, then close your right nostril using the thumb and exhale slowly through the left.
- Keeping your thumb over the right nostril, and inhale slowly through the left.
- Close the left nostril with you ring finger, and exhale gently and slowly through the right.
- With the left nostril still closed, inhale through the right.
- Close the right nostril, and exhale slowly through the left.
This completes one cycle. Repeat 5-10 cycles, focusing the mind on each inhale and exhale.
Tip: You can inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3 and gradually build up to a count of 5 or 6.
References and Further Reading:
- Nadi Shodana https://www.yogadharma.co.uk/meditation-teacher-training/nadi-shodhana/
- The cleansing power of breath: The Nadi Shodana Technique: https://raviraman.com/the-cleansing-power-of-breath-the-nadi-shodhana-technique/
- Nadi Shodana https://jivamuktiyoga.com/fotm/nadi-shodhana/
- Shodhana, Sodhana, Sodhana: 24 definitions https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/shodhana
- Nadi Shodana Benefits: https://www.tummee.com/yoga-poses/nadi-shodhana/benefits
- Nadi (yoga): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadi_(yoga)