By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Anxiety and depression are so prevalent in our society today that these uncomfortable physiological states can be considered a pandemic. Our very way of life leads many of us to feel exhausted, stressed out and unable to unwind. Along with the frequency of states of anxiety and depression, many people suffer from insomnia and, in turn, a compromised immune system. Over time, not being able to unwind, relax and let go into a state of being, instead of perpetual doing, can lead to a multitude of physical and mental health issues.
Many people rely on mood moderating substances in order to help them relax. Unfortunately, many of these substances have side effects and can be quite addictive. Some mood altering substances can also be deadly in the long run. Take alcohol, for example. In the short run, alcohol relieves anxiety and helps you to relax. However, over time, the body grows accustom to alcohol and even dependent on it. When this happens, the individual who is dependent on the daily consumption of alcohol runs the risk of a number of serious physical complications including psychological dependency, cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease.
If you are addicted to drugs, alcohol, food, or any kind of prescription medication, practicing Yoga postures and breathing exercises several times a week or more, will help to loosen the bonds of addiction by offering you other ways of relieving pain, anxiety and depression. In fact, there a number of recently published studies that clinically document Yoga’s efficacy at relieving panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. Yoga is also highly effective for relieving sciatica, lower back pain and joint and muscle stiffness.
To truly enjoy all of the benefits that Yoga has to offer, it is important to practice the physical postures of Yoga in conjunction with breathing exercises and periods of meditation. There are also a number of other practices advocated by the Yogic scriptures, which help to restore balance and harmony to the body and mind. Some of these complementary practices include chanting sacred mantras and texts, contemplative exercises and the study of one’s own thinking patterns or samskaras.
Yogic breathing exercises and pranayama are very effective at relieving stress and anxiety, while boosting a Yoga practitioner’s energy level and sense of optimism. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is one of the primary Yogic breathing exercises. This pranayama alternates inhaling and exhaling through the right and left nostrils. Hence, it is also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. When the inhale and exhale alternate between each nostril, the flow of life force energy or prana is balanced throughout the body.
* Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing
To practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, come to a comfortable sitting position on your Yoga mat. If your hips are tight today, you may wish to place a folded blanket underneath you for added support and comfort. Take a few deep breaths before beginning your pranayama practice. When you are ready to begin your practice of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, place your right thumb on the outside of your right nostril, the first two fingers of your right hand on the space between your eye brows and the little finger of your right hand on the outside of your left nostril.
Gently close your left nostril with the little finger of your right hand. Inhale fresh oxygen in a smooth and fluid fashion through your right nostril. When your lungs are fully expanded, pause for several seconds and close your right nostril with your right thumb. As you close your right nostril, gently apply pressure to the space between your eyebrows with the first two fingers of your right hand. When you are ready to exhale, release the hold on your left nostril and exhale fluidly through your left nostril only.
When you have completed your exhale, pause for several seconds, and then inhale steadily and fully through your left nostril only. Retain your breath for several seconds, and then pinch off your left nostril with the little finger of your right hand as you simultaneously release the hold on your right nostril. Exhale fully and completely through your right nostril only. This is one round of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. Complete three to ten rounds of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama at your own pace.
This breathing exercise is both calming and energizing. It is a very soothing way of quieting the vrittis of the mind. If you are feeling anxious, exhausted or overwhelmed, practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing is a great way to independently ground yourself and calm you mind without the use of mood altering substances. This Yogic breathing exercise is frequently practiced at the beginning of a Yoga class or just prior to Shavasana or meditation.