Yoga Break: Nadi Shodhana

I have dealt with anxiety and depression for going on nine years now, and it’s something that I have always been open about. While after nine years I have been able to come up with my own set of solid coping strategies to implement if I feel an anxiety attack threatening to make an appearance, I am always looking to add new skills to the toolbox. In fact, the whole reason I started practicing yoga three and a half years ago was for this very reason! And, as you may have guessed, I was not disappointed. The practice of yoga, no matter what tradition you’re involved in or how hot and sweaty you like to get, is not only a perspective changer in and of itself, but it also offers a huge array of breathing exercises (Pranayama), which can really help with anxiety.

If you’ve ever dealt with an anxiety attack (or, for that matter, just been really stressed out), you know that one of the first things you start to lose control over is your breath. As my counselor so often advised me, getting control of my breath back at the beginning stages of a panic attack can really help with its severity. There are about a million and one different yogic breathing exercises to choose from, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ve chosen one for you guys that’s super easy to learn and, more importantly, extremely easy to get in the flow of and remember how to do when you’re heart’s speeding up and things are starting to come crashing down.

Although it’s technically called Nadi Shodhana, you may have also heard it referred to as Alternate Nostril Breathing — which is a pretty self-explanatory definition of what it is. You can start by finding a comfortable seat (on the floor, a cushion, a chair, whatever works), making sure your spine is tall and the crown of your head is drawing up. Curl the index and middle fingers of the right hand in towards the palm, leaving your thumb, ring, and pinky fingers in a kind of “hang loose” sign; you can rest your left hand in your lap. Spend a few breaths settling in, close your eyes, and then use your right thumb to close off your right nostril. Breathe in deeply through your left nostril, and then close that one off with your ring and pinky fingers so that both nostrils are closed for a brief pause. Then, release your thumb and allow the breath to flow out your right nostril. Pause again very briefly, and then (keeping the left nostril closed still), breathe in through the right nostril. Replace your thumb again and retain the breath for a few seconds, after which you’ll remove your little fingers and this time let the air flow out the left side. Pause briefly, and then repeat the cycle again (and again), noticing the way your nostrils start to clear out and your breathing becomes steadier.

It might look a little silly to do in public, but I’ve found that you can be discreet about it no matter where you are. You don’t have to close your eyes, and you certainly don’t have to be sitting in Lotus pose on a meditation cushion! Not only is Nadi Shodhana great for focusing the mind and easing anxiety in tough moments, but it’s also really good for the respiratory system and the balance of hormones within the body. As always, give it a try and be sure to let me know how it goes!

I’ll see you back here next Tuesday for another quick Yoga Break, and until then:

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