Earlier this week during one of my pilates classes, the instructor repeatedly mentioned how foreign it felt to her to breathe both in and out her nose, which she has been doing while wearing a mask. In so many forms of exercise and meditation, we are taught to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, so it makes sense that she feels a bit awkward going against the system she was taught. Apparently, this has been quite a topic of conversation in various pilates circles, so today I’m choosing to focus on Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing.

While it has been accepted in certain exercise circles that inhaling through the nostrils and exhaling through the mouth is the best breathing pattern during physical exercise and meditation, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, it can actually make it harder for us to oxygenate our systems under certain circumstances, as many of us begin to essentially pant through our mouths during stressful situations or high intensity workouts. As always, it’s good to have a number of alternatives in your bag of tricks. You already know how to breathe in and out of both nostrils at the same time, but you’re probably less familiar with Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. Nadi Shodhana has been used in meditative practices since time immemorial. It’s quite easy to learn and can be used anywhere and at any time you feel anxious or distressed. Like many meditative practices, there are several different styles from which you can choose. We’re going to cover the basics, and you can look more deeply into the various practices on your own if you’re inclined to do so.

We will be actively using the thumb and ring finger for this exercise. You may place the index (pointer) and middle fingers between your eyebrows, or curl them into the palm of your hand to get them out of the way. The pinky finger can rest on the ring finger or just hang out and relax. I will be cueing this as if you are using your right hand. For those, myself included, who are not exclusively right-handed, use your left hand and adjust the wording of the cues accordingly.

As always, sit in a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths to prepare for the practice.

  • Start by closing your right nostril with your right thumb. Slowly inhale through the left nostril. Try to maintain a steady pace while inhaling. Some people find it helpful to inhale while counting to five.
  • Close your left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are now closed.
  • Briefly pause.
  • Open your right nostril and slowly exhale. Again, try to maintain a steady pace while exhaling, counting to five if you need to to maintain a steady pace.
  • Briefly pause.
  • Slowly and steadily inhale through the right nostril.
  • Hold both nostrils closed.
  • Open your left nostril and slowly exhale. Again, try to maintain a steady pace while exhaling.
  • Briefly pause.
  • Repeat this cycle at least five times.

Try it during your meditations this week and see what you think.


Disclaimer: This blog is not designed to diagnose, treat, or prevent illnesses or trauma, and Dr. Emick is not responsible for your use of this educational material or its consequences. Furthermore, reading this blog does not create a doctor-patient relationship. The information contained within this blog is not intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate, or best care for any given physical or behavioral health issue, nor does it take into account the unique circumstances that define the health issues of the reader. If you have questions about the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a condition or illness, you should consult your personal health care professional. As always, consult with your personal health care professional before beginning or changing any fitness or nutrition program to make sure that it is appropriate for your needs. Dr. Emick reserves the right to modify her positions on a subject based upon new research or data as it presents.