Nadi Shodhana is a form of pranayama in which the ring finger and the thumb are used alternately to partially close the nostrils on the inhalation and exhalation. The purpose is to cleanse and purify the nadis (energy channels). Alternate which nostril you begin the cycle with, so each side will be involved with inhalation and exhalation. The nadis will crisscross with the chakras, distributing prana to both hemispheres of the brain and every part of the body.
There are many variations in Nadi Shodhana, some of which include breath retention. The basic form of alternate nostril breathing is presented here.
Sit for pranayama. Raise and bend the right arm. Make a fist, with the palm facing the face. Place the thumb and ring finger with the little finger on the outside of the ridge of the nose (SEE FIGURE 19-2). Gently slide them down the nose until a slight indentation and the end of the cartilage is felt. Your finger will be above the nostrils. Practice applying light pressure on either side of the nose above the nostril, to partially close each nostril, without moving the septum.
FIGURE 19-2: Hand position for Nadi Shodhana
Begin with normal breathing and relax the facial muscles, ears, eyes and jaw. Exhale completely. Inhale through both nostrils. Close the right nostril with the right thumb as you slowly exhale through the left nostril. At the end of the exhalation, close the left nostril with the right ring finger and inhale smoothly and slowly through the right nostril. Repeat this cycle two more times. Then release the right arm to the lap and breathe normally for three complete breaths.
Exhale the breath completely and inhale. Upon the next exhalation, close the left nostril with the right ring finger. Release the ring finger from the left nostril and the right nostril with the right thumb as you inhale. Repeat this sequence two more times. Then begin the cycle with the left nostril closed while exhaling. Then lie down and relax in Savasana.
The benefits of this type of pranayama include the following:
It results in a greater supply of oxygen to the blood.
It purifies and calms the nerves.
It quiets and clarifies the mind.