A simple technique to relax and calm the mind. One of the most popular and effective yoga breathing exercises is alternate nostril breathing, which relaxes and calms the mind, relieves fatigue and balances ‘prana’ (vital energy) in the body.

 

The Exercise

1. Before you start, make sure you’re sitting comfortably. Take your right hand and, tucking the index and middle fingers into the palm, place the thumb by your right nostril and the ring and little fingers by your left.

2. Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril to a count of eight.

3. Close the left nostril with the ring finger. Release the thumb and exhale through the right nostril to a count of eight.

4. One you’ve finished exhaling, inhale through the same nostril to a count of eight.

5. Close the right nostril with your thumb, release the ring finger and exhale from your left nostril to a count of eight.

Continue in this way for several minutes and repeat twice daily.

Next step

Once you feel comfortable with the technique, develop the practice by retaining the breath and breathing in the ratio of 2:8:4.

This involves breathing in powerfully through the left nostril to a count of two, closing both nostrils with the ring finger and thumb and holding the breath for a count of eight, then releasing the thumb and exhaling through the right nostril for a count of four. You should then repeat this in reverse from right nostril to left. Don’t strain; if it’s difficult, gradually build up the duration of the breath retention.

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.