Cultivating Balance with Nadi Shodhana

David Burgess explores how to cultivate balance with Nadi Shodhana….

david burgess pranayama teacher
David Burgess Pranayama Teacher

In these uncertain times it is more important than ever to bring a sense of balance and equilibrium into our lives. One of the simplest ways to do this is with a daily practice of alternate nostril breathing.

The word Nadi means ‘energy channel’ and Shodhana means ‘to cleanse or purify’. So through this practice, we are cleansing the energy channels in the body and aiding the natural flow of prana. Nadi Shodhana is practiced by alternating the inhalation and exhalation between the left and right nostrils, thus balancing, and purifying the flow of prana through the two major Nadis of ida and pingala and harmonising the two brain hemispheres.

The practice of Nadi Shodhana, restores balance in both the physical and mental body, and is a method of reducing anxiety and increasing mindfulness and concentration. When we bring our focus to the breath and allow it to flow slowly and deeply with awareness, it calms us by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems therefore lessening the stress response.

The practice of Nadi Shodhana can be adjusted to suit the ability level of the practitioner, depending on the level of your practice and life circumstances. For some, the basic practice of Nadi shodhana will be enough as a long-term practice. It is a great practice to use in preparation for meditation, however through the inclusion of kumbhakas and bandhas over time, can be a complete practice in itself.


Sit in a comfortable seated position and place your right hand in a position called Nasikagra mudra. The index and middle fingers of the right hand gently rest at the eyebrow centre, and the thumb just above the right nostril and the ring finger just above the left, use these fingers to control the flow of breath in the nostrils by alternately closing one nostril then releasing and closing the other. The breath should be silent and not restricted in any way.

BASIC NADI SHODHANA (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

To begin, close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril using a count of 1 om 2 om 3 om, then close the left nostril and exhale through the right for the same count. This is then repeated in the opposite direction, inhaling through the right, then closing the right nostril and inhaling through the left. This is one round and considered a ratio of 1:1. Over time you can slowly increase the breath count until the breath ratio is 10:10, so an inhale for a count of 10 and exhale for the same count through the opposite nostril.

This technique balances the breath and the brain hemispheres. It improves concentration, is calming and relieves anxiety. The equal ratio of 1:1 is a soothing rhythm for the brain and heart.

Once the breath ratio of 10:10 is comfortably reached, the ratio can be increased to 1:2, starting with a breath count of 5 for the inhale, and 10 for the exhale. The breath ratio can be built up over time to be 10:20, this high count should only be practiced if it can be done so with ease and without strain.

The ratio of 1:2 is beneficial in that the exhale is extended; it is a very calming practice that moves your body into a state of deep relaxation, switching over to the parasympathetic nervous system.

Throughout the practice, awareness should be focussed on the breath and the counting. Retentions (kumbhakas) are contraindicated for people with high blood pressure or heart problems.

After practising the basic method for a while, you might start to notice a natural pause between the inhale and the exhale and vice versa. Allow these pauses to occur naturally without counting them and let your breath flow naturally and with ease.


In this version an internal breath retention (Antar Kumbhaka) is introduced where you consciously hold the breath in for a count that is equal to the inhale and exhale.

Begin with a ratio of 1:1:1 ensuring the count is equal for inhalation, inner retention, and exhalation. The breath count should be quite low to start with. A count of 5:5:5 is recommended, even if you have reached a much higher breath count in basic Nadi Shodhana. Over time the breath ratio can slowly be increased to a count of 10:10:10 ensuring there is no tension or effort in doing so.

Once that is achieved without strain, the ratio can then be adjusted to 1:1:2. Each time you change the ratio, you should lower the breath count to help you adjust. It is advisable to have at least several months of regular practice using a particular ratio and gradually increasing it, before changing it. So for the ratio of 1:1:2, the breath count should reduce to 5:5:10 and then over time, slowly and without strain, can be increased.

It is important to ensure you are not speeding up the count due to shortness of breath. The breath should flow naturally and with ease. While some might increase their breath ratio easily, for others a lower count may be the more natural option.

Over time, the ratio of 1:1:2 can be changed to 1:2:2 which should be commenced with a breath ratio of 5:10:10, and then 1:3:2 which builds on the internal retention and starts as a breath count of 5:15:10. Ultimately settling on the ratio of 1:4:2 which starts with a breath count of 5:20:10. The ratio of 1:4:2 is the most widely recommended in yogic texts.

These ratios should be built up to gradually and without strain and only once a comfortable practice is achieved with each ratio. The length of breath should increase spontaneously without the use of force.

The inner retention of the breath activates various brain centres and harmonises the pranas.

It is important to remember at any stage or variation of the practice, that the breath should be silent and not forced or straining in any way. More advanced versions of this practice include both antar and Bahir kumbhakas and bandhas.

However, if you are looking for a simple practice that helps you to handle life’s situations in a more balanced and calm manner, then a basic Nadi Shodhana would be a beneficial pranayama practice to make time for in your day.

Explore the beauty and benefits of Pranayama with David Burgess on the IYTA’s popular comprehensive course: Meditation and Pranayama – visit the website to find out more:

YOGA Intelligence – Exploring the Spine

Exploring the spine

Tracy Hewson explores the spine and its relationship to yoga and the breath…

Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”– Lao Tzu

This opening quote speaks to me in volumes about the relationship between the body and the mind. Without a positive and well-watered mind, the body starts to cease functioning to its best ability. As we water the mind with optimism and solutions, success is in reach. This then filters into the body and allows us to be strong and healthy. Yoga and the breath, I believe, is the bridge to get there. The spine is our support structure and without it we would not be able to stand, sit or kneel. There are many intricacies to each of our vertebrae: One of support for the next layer, the discs in between to support that structure and the spinal processes at the posterior of each for the vertebrae all have their own function. The lateral wings of each vertebrae have holes or foramina to support the entire central nervous system. When we start to look at the connection to the central nervous system and what that feeds to in the body, this is where it gets interesting….

Tracy Hewson Yoga Teacher

The interconnectedness of the entire body is the best machine I have ever come across and because of this interconnection with bones, central nervous system and the chakras, this, I feel, has a deep connection to the teaching of yoga and the breath. As the emotional body plays an integral role in breath work, so too the spine and each of the spinal vertebrae play an integral role in supporting the body. The link is that each of the cells in our body has a memory and this memory carries energy and so when the spine is in misalignment, the feeling or emotional body comes into play.

Each of our vertebrae has an intelligence – for example, Thoracic vertebrae number 9 aligns with the heart chakra and the intelligence for this vertebrae is ‘Know that your love is your energy force. When you know you are love, you understand that love is your power.’ A new thought pattern we can bring to mind that aligns with this area of the spine is ‘I claim my own power. I lovingly create my own reality.’

The mind, body and breath are intimately aligned in a mysterious connection that influences every part of our lives. Learning to move through your yoga practice with mindfulness and breath awareness are valuable tools in helping you restore and enhance your life. The invitation is to understand the core belief at any area of the spine where tightness or tension presents and then bring a new thought pattern into the mind’s awareness, through the breath. This may be helpful as a positive affirmation to carry forward into life and open up to changing old thought patterns or beliefs.

‘Thought is creative’, simply means, what you think about expands, and what you think about you get more of. When you change your mind to a positive choice, you change your life. As I have delved more into the power of using the breath, it has added another layer to my awareness as to how powerful the mind is and without a positive change in mind, the body has less chance to heal. So what’s the thought behind it? Why not simply catch the thought that may be keeping you limited. Choose to change the thought to something positive and then the body becomes free. The body is not weighed down with that limiting thought any longer. This makes space in the body for the new to enter. A new thought pattern, a new belief, a new and positive affirmation is now able to be absorbed into the cellular level.

Through my exploration of the spine I have learnt that every vertebrae has a positive concept to keep it healthy and every organ in our body has its own positive concept. Each chakra has a different learning experience and governs different areas of the body. By using the breath to breathe out the energy behind the emotions that keep us limited, we can empty out the negative and create space for positive ways, healing limitations, fears and thoughts of guilt and suffering so we can enjoy life. I am drawn to continue to explore the spinal column and all its intricacies as it is the core of the skeletal system and everything stems from there. Just like the breath, it is like the string that links all the pearls together.

Tracy Hewson is an IYTA member, Yoga teacher, Breathwork Practitioner and group facilitator. She has also worked as a radiographer. She says: “I absolutely love teaching yoga with a therapeutic approach and I am enjoying interweaving the metaphysics of breathwork through all of my practices.” To find out about Tracy’s Yoga Intelligence Masterclass – The Spine visit