Alternate nostril breathing is a yoga breathing exercise. People breathe through one nostril while holding the other shut, then change nostrils and repeat the process. Breathing exercises can help reduce stress and be good for the heart, lungs, and brain.

This article will outline what alternate nostril breathing is, look at the risks and benefits of alternate nostril breathing, and explain how to do it.

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When people breathe, the oxygen in the air travels into the lungs, across the lining of the lungs, and into the blood. The blood then travels around the body, delivering oxygen to all the cells.

The respiratory process produces waste in the form of carbon dioxide. Cells deposit carbon dioxide in the blood, which travels back to the lungs. The carbon dioxide then passes into the lungs, and the body breathes it out.

This is an automatic process, meaning people do it without being aware that they are doing it. Breathing exercises are a way to concentrate on breathing, making it a conscious effort.

Breathing exercises can help people to:

  • manage stress and anxiety
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower heart rate
  • improve lung function
  • improve brain function

Alternate nostril breathing is a breathing exercise. People who practice yoga sometimes call it Nadi Shodhan pranayama.

People slowly breathe in and out through one nostril while keeping the other one close with their fingers. Then they swap.

Alternate nostril breathing comes from yoga.

When people practice alternate nostril breathing, they breathe slowly and gently through one nostril while keeping the other one closed with their fingers. Then they swap nostrils. It helps them concentrate on breathing, which is usually an automatic process.

This can help people to calm down or relax. It is a simple exercise that some say helps them feel grounded and centered. Some people do it while meditating.

A 2017 review of all the studies on alternate nostril breathing found that doing it regularly was good for the heart, lungs, and brain. The researchers found it could:

  • reduce blood pressure and heart rate
  • improve lung function, or breathing
  • improve motor function or movement skills
  • improve memory

Alternate nostril breathing involves breathing with one nostril while holding the other closed, then swapping sides.

There are a few variations. However, they all follow the same general pattern. A review of studies on this breathing exercise found that people sometimes:

  • breathed in with one nostril and out with the other
  • breathed in and out with the same nostril, then swapped
  • breathed in and out with the same nostril more than once before swapping to the other nostril
  • held their breath while swapping from one nostril to the other
  • went straight from one nostril to the other without holding their breath

Studies have found that practicing alternate nostril breathing regularly can:

  • help ease stress
  • help ease anxiety
  • help people to relax
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower heart rate
  • help with breathing
  • improve brain function, including helping with memory and movement

Alternate nostril breathing appears to be safe.

The authors of a 2017 evidence review looked at 44 papers. None of the study volunteers experienced any side effects, and all were able to take part in the exercise.

According to the Art of Living, a non-profit organization that promotes yoga and meditation for well-being, people can:

  1. Sit on the ground, keeping the spine straight and the shoulders relaxed.
  2. Gently place the tips of the right index and middle fingers in between the eyebrows, with the hand pointing down. If a person is unable to use their index fingers, they can use any finger, apparatus, or body part that helps them close one nostril.
  3. Close the eyes.
  4. Place the tips of the right ring and little finger on the left nostril.
  5. Place the tip of the thumb on the right nostril.
  6. Close the right nostril with the thumb, and gently breathe out the left nostril.
  7. Gently breathe in through the left nostril.
  8. Close the left nostril with the right ring and little finger.
  9. Gently breathe in with the right nostril.
  10. Gently breathe out through the right nostril.
  11. Repeat.

The Art of Living recommends repeating the process nine times. Yoga International suggests three breaths on each side.

Evidence suggests that people who regularly practice alternate nostril breathing benefit most from it. Yoga International suggests twice a day.

Some people like to practice alternate nostril breathing when feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed. One example might be doing it before public speaking. Other people use it as part of their meditation regime.

Alternate nostril breathing is a yoga-based breathing exercise. It can help to ease stress or anxiety. Studies have also shown it is good for the heart, lungs, and brain.

To practice alternate nostril breathing, people breathe gently through one nostril while keeping the other shut with their fingers. Then they swap.

People who practice alternate nostril breathing regularly are most likely to get the most benefit from it. There do not appear to be any risks associated with the breathing exercise.