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Alternating Nostril Breathing Technique

Aug 12, 2020

Alternating Nostril Technique is a breathing exercise that has a very calming effect on the nervous system, and can instantly switch you from your sympathetic nervous system (stressed-state) to your parasympathetic nervous system (relaxed-state). It has also been shown to help stimulate the vagal nerve. If you have poor vagal tone, or if have abnormal adrenal stress hormone function, or depleted neurotransmitters, this technique will help aid in your healing.  

In this technique, we have combined box breathing with alternating nostril breathing, to ramp up the beneficial effects. Box breathing maintains a repetitive breathing pattern -  i.e. five seconds inhale, five seconds hold, five seconds exhale, five seconds hold, etc. Box breathing can heighten performance and concentration, while also being a powerful stress reliever. 


How to Perform

  1. Place your right index finger in the middle of your forehead, and use your thumb to block your right nostril and your ring finger to block your left nostril.
  2. Start with blocking your right nostril only and inhale for five seconds, and hold for five seconds.
  3. Take your thumb off your right nostril and block your left nostril with your index finger, exhale, and hold for five seconds.
  4. Keep your left nostril blocked and inhale for five seconds, and hold for five seconds.
  5. Unblock your left nostril, and block your right nostril; exhale for five seconds, and hold.
  6. Continue this pattern until at least 5 minutes. Try working up to 15-minutes a day, or use throughout the day in times of stress or when you need more clarity.

If you can’t breathe in/exhale for five seconds, do it for less. But stay consistent with the rhythm - i.e. two seconds inhale, hold for two seconds; two seconds exhale, hold for two seconds. If you want more of a challenge, increase the seconds. 


Diaphragmatic Breathing

It is important when doing this Alternative Breathing Technique that you focus on breathing deep into your diaphragm. Many people who are under stress will breathe with their chest, which constantly puts them into the sympathetic nervous system (stressed-state). Here’s how to practice diaphragmatic breathing: 

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  3. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your upper chest must remain as still as possible.

Note: You may notice an increased effort will be needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you'll probably get tired while doing this exercise. But keep at it, because with continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing will become easy and automatic.

How often should I practice this exercise?

If your breathing pattern is very dysfunctional, at first you may need to practice this exercise 5-10 minutes about 3-4 times per day. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend doing this exercise, and perhaps even increase the effort of the exercise by placing a book on your abdomen.

If you’re super busy and don’t think you can dedicate this much time to lying down and practicing your breathing, you may find this technique more helpful: simply tie a piece of string around your belly at the beginning of the day. Set a timer to go off every hour. Every hour when the timer goes off, do 10 belly breaths wherever you are (in the car, at the computer, at the shops - wherever!). Focus on breathing into the string. The string will act as both a reminder to breathe, and also guide you to breathe properly. 

If you’re a chronic chest-breather, it may take a good month or two of practicing to achieve functional breathing. So keep at it - don’t give up!

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