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Alcohol and Mental Health

Alternate Nostril Breathing: What It Is and How To Get Started

August 1, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 1, 2023
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 1, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 1, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 1, 2023
19 min read

It’s a typical Monday morning for Jane. She hears the usual New York City sounds outside her window: cars honking, people rushing, police sirens blaring. At her desk, Jane’s laptop blinks with notifications, beckoning her to address the avalanche of emails and tasks awaiting her attention.

However, Jane chooses to pause. There's a conscious decision to not let the outside noise dictate her mood or her day. With her back straightened and hands resting on her lap, she closes her eyes and begins the rhythmic pattern of alternate nostril breathing. Each inhalation and exhalation is an act of grounding, bringing her back to the present moment, away from the looming deadlines and tasks.

Alternate nostril breathing isn’t meditation in the traditional sense, nor is it putting thoughts to paper like journaling. But for Jane, this act is sacred. It's her anchor to clarity, a buffer against the impending stress. By the time she’s ready to face her inbox, there’s a newfound calm, a quiet resilience. The world can wait; Jane has found her center.

What Is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

In a world where meditation apps are abundant and wellness retreats have become the new trend, there's a timeless technique that stands unshaken by wellness fads: alternate nostril breathing, known by yogis as nadi shodhana pranayama. But what makes this age-old practice relevant today?

Originating from yogic traditions, alternate nostril breathing is more than just a respiratory exercise. It's a philosophical and physiological tool. It emphasizes the delicate intertwining of the body, mind, and spirit, acknowledging that our physical and mental well-being are not separate entities but deeply interconnected facets of our existence.

Well before the birth of modern psychology or neuroscience, ancient practitioners already recognized the intrinsic connection between the breath and the mind. The word nadi translates to “channel” or “flow,” while shodhana means “purification.” Together, nadi shodhana symbolizes the purification of the body's energy channels. Far from being just a set of inhale-exhale patterns, the practice was seen as a way to achieve equilibrium between the body's vital energies.

In yogic philosophy, the left nostril is associated with the moon's cooling energy, termed “ida,” and the right nostril with the sun's warming energy, known as “pingala.” Alternate nostril breathing, through its rhythmic inhalations and exhalations, seeks to harmonize these contrasting energies, fostering a state of internal equilibrium. By doing so, it mitigates the extremes, promoting a state of centeredness and balance.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: What Does Science Say?

Modern science has also acknowledged the benefits of alternate nostril breathing. Specifically, it has a tangible impact on the brain's hemispheres. Our left brain, often linked with logic, reasoning, and analytical thinking, contrasts with the right brain, which is associated with creativity, intuition, and emotions.

Engaging in nadi shodhana, alternating the breath between nostrils, encourages a balance between these hemispheres. By doing so fosters a harmonious relationship between the analytical and the creative. The results? Enhanced cognitive flexibility, better decision-making, and an improved sense of holistic well-being. The study by Stancak et al. (1991) lends scientific credence to this, suggesting that such breathing techniques can influence the functional dominance of the brain hemispheres.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: What Are the Science-Backed Benefits?

The power of alternate nostril breathing goes beyond its neurological benefits. For those of us transitioning to an alcohol-free or alcohol-conscious lifestyle, the journey is often marked by fluctuating moods, stress, and cravings. Nadi shodhana serves as a resilient and healthier alternative to a habitual drink. Here are a few other ways this breathing technique can benefit us, especially as we cut back or quit: 

Decreased Stress and Anxiety 

A study by Jahan et al. (2020) delves into the profound impact this practice can have on the psyche. Participants engaged in regular alternate nostril breathing exhibited a marked reduction in their stress and anxiety levels. Unlike short-term solutions that merely mask the issue, this practice gets to the root, offering genuine relief and tranquility.

Optimal Heart Rate Stabilization

In today’s world, elevated heart rates are all too common, especially when undergoing stressful circumstances such as changing our relationship with alcohol. The rhythmic cadence of alternate nostril breathing, with its measured inhalations and exhalations, can serve as a metronome for the heart, bringing its rate to a calm and stable rhythm. This not only benefits cardiovascular health but also sets a serene backdrop for mental peace.

Reduced Cravings 

Alcohol cravings can be intense and hard to navigate. Yet, having a tool like alternate nostril breathing offers a handy deterrent. The next time that urge surfaces, channeling the focus into this breathing technique can divert the mind, grounding us and offering a pause to rethink the impulse.

Improved Sleep Quality 

Sleep disturbances and insomnia are common complaints as we change our relationship with alcohol. Tossing and turning, ruminating thoughts, and fragmented sleep can take a toll. Yet, incorporating alternate nostril breathing into our nightly routine can be transformative. The calming effect on the nervous system, coupled with the balancing of brain hemispheres, paves the way for deeper, more restful nights.

Enhanced Cognitive Abilities

Alternate nostril breathing can sharpen our cognition. Every inhalation and exhalation sends oxygen-rich blood to the brain, fueling its neurons and enhancing its functions. The results are palpable:

  • Focus: In an era of incessant distractions, maintaining attention becomes paramount. This technique aids in filtering out the noise, channeling attention to what truly matters.
  • Memory: By harmonizing the brain's rhythms, alternate nostril breathing provides an optimal environment for memory formation and recall.

Decision making: A well-oxygenated, balanced brain can weigh options more judiciously, leading to informed choices.

Healthier Hormonal Balance

The endocrine system is responsible for our body's hormonal equilibrium. These hormones dictate myriad processes, from energy metabolism to mood regulation. Engaging in alternate nostril breathing can influence this delicate balance, particularly concerning stress hormones such as cortisol. By preventing cortisol’s excessive release, this practice ensures a harmonious internal environment, promoting emotional stability, efficient metabolic functioning, and a sense of overall vitality.

Better Respiratory Health

Breathing, unsurprisingly, is pivotal for respiratory health. But the conscious act of alternate nostril breathing takes this a notch higher. As we engage the diaphragm more intensively and consistently, it strengthens this vital muscle. Over prolonged practice, this not only amplifies lung capacity but also refines the efficiency of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Robust respiratory health serves as a preventative measure against potential respiratory ailments, granting both longevity and quality to every breath we take.

Improved Digestive Efficiency

Perhaps unexpectedly, the benefits of this breathing method ripple into our digestive tract. The deep, rhythmic breaths trigger a relaxation response, a state in which our body can allocate resources optimally. In this relaxed state, the digestive system thrives:

  • Digestion: The efficient breakdown of food becomes more feasible, ensuring nutrients are unlocked effectively.
  • Absorption: The relaxed gut facilitates smoother absorption of these nutrients, guaranteeing they reach the cells that need them.
  • Gut health: Overall, this leads to a healthier gut microbiome, an ecosystem that plays a pivotal role in our overall health, from immunity to mood regulation.

Optimal Emotional Resilience

Navigating life’s myriad emotional landscapes requires inner strength and flexibility. As we oscillate between joy and sorrow, hope and despair, the practice of alternate nostril breathing can serve as an anchor. By inducing a sense of inner calm and equilibrium, alternate nostril breathing equips us with unshakeable resilience. Even amidst emotional storms, this practice offers a sanctuary of peace, allowing us to view situations with clarity, grace, and a grounded perspective.

How To Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing

The beauty of alternate nostril breathing lies in its simplicity paired with the profound benefits we’ve discussed. It’s a cornerstone in the realm of yogic practices, renowned for its ability to bridge the body, mind, and spirit. Let's break down this age-old practice and understand how we can use it:

  1. Positioning: Begin by finding a comfortable seat. This could be on a cushioned surface or a chair. Ensure the spine is erect, shoulders relaxed, and the face calm. You're not just preparing the body but also creating an inviting space for the mind.
  2. Hand placement: With the right hand, use the thumb to gently close off the right nostril. The fingers should be relaxed, resting on the bridge of the nose.
  3. Breathwork: Initiate by taking a deep inhalation solely through the left nostril, filling the lungs with a sense of purpose and serenity.
  4. Transition: Engage the right ring finger to close the left nostril, releasing the right nostril simultaneously. With grace, exhale through the now open right nostril.
  5. Continuation: Breathe in through the right nostril, cherishing the fresh oxygen and the energy it brings.
  6. Completing the cycle: Close off the right nostril with the thumb, release the left, and exhale smoothly. This flow—inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left—forms one comprehensive cycle of nadi shodhana.
  7. Consistency: For beginners, aiming for at least five cycles during a session can be an excellent starting point. With practice, one can gradually extend the duration.

Integrate Alternate Nostril Breathing Into Our Daily Routines

  • Morning mingle: Morning rituals set the tone for the day. While waiting for that coffee to brew, resist the temptation of screens. Instead, perform three cycles of alternate nostril breathing, initiating the day with purpose and tranquility.
  • Pre-meeting moments: Business presentations or team meetings can be nerve-wracking. Ground yourself beforehand with this calming technique, establishing mental clarity and poise.
  • Sundown wind down: Days can be frenetic. As evening draws near, let alternate nostril breathing be the bridge, guiding the mind from the hustle of work to the sanctum of relaxation.
  • Tech-free timeout: Modern life teems with digital distractions. Instead of diving into the online world during short breaks, take a respite with some mindful breathing. It’s an instant detox for the mind.
  • Soothing slumbers: Sleep isn't just about closing the eyes. It's a journey into restfulness. Incorporating this practice into a pre-sleep routine can ensure a more peaceful, deep, and rejuvenating sleep.
  • Midday reset: Afternoons can often bring along a sense of lethargy. Before reaching for that cup of coffee, engage in a few cycles. It can invigorate the mind, offering a natural and more enduring boost.
  • Post-exercise peace: Physical workouts are about movement, rhythm, and energy. Concluding a session with alternate nostril breathing can be the perfect counterbalance, settling the body and creating a sense of internal harmony.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: A Timeless Healing Force

Alternate nostril breathing’s persistent relevance today, despite the rapid evolution of modern health and wellness trends, underscores the universal truth they understood: our breath is intimately connected to our well-being.

Throughout history, human beings have sought ways to achieve balance: physically, emotionally, mentally. In this constant search, there's a tendency to get enamored by the newest methods, devices, or philosophies. However, the brilliance of alternate nostril breathing lies in its simplicity. At its core, it requires no special equipment, no particular environment, and no cost. All that's asked of us is our attention, intention, and consistency.

Its effects, as we've explored, are wide-ranging. Whether you're aiming for a resilient emotional state, improved cognitive function, or physical health, this practice offers tangible benefits. It's a holistic approach to well-being, treating the us not as disparate parts but as an integrated whole. 

Moreover, in a world where external factors often seem overwhelming, this practice offers an empowering message: the tools for healing and growth lie within us. It's a gentle reminder that amidst the chaos of life, we can find sanctuary within our own breath.

For those of us looking to redefine our relationship with alcohol or to simply navigate the stresses of daily life, alternate nostril breathing offers more than just a reprieve. It presents an opportunity for transformation, to cultivate a space where every breath brings clarity, tranquility, and rejuvenation.

If you've not yet tried it, consider this your invitation! Start with those five cycles, and with time, let the rhythm of your breath become the metronome guiding you towards a state of inner harmony. Embrace the practice not just as a routine but as a lifestyle, a pathway towards self-awareness and balance.

Summary FAQs

1. What is alternate nostril breathing?

Also known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, it's a yogic breathing technique that involves inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time to balance the body's energies.

2. How does alternate nostril breathing benefit the brain?

It promotes equilibrium between the logical left and the creative right brain hemispheres, fostering holistic cognitive functioning.

3. Can this practice help with alcohol reduction?

Yes. The technique has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, stabilize the heart rate, reduce cravings, and improve sleep quality—all beneficial for those reducing alcohol intake.

4. How do I start practicing it?

Begin seated, use your right hand to regulate airflow through the nostrils, and follow a specific pattern of inhalation and exhalation, as detailed in the blog.

5. When are the best times to practice this breathing method?

Ideal moments include mornings, before meetings, during tech breaks, post-exercise, or even as a midday reset. Integrating it into daily routines can maximize benefits.

6. Is it safe for everyone?

Generally, yes. However, like any practice, if someone has underlying health issues, especially respiratory, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional first.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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