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Breathing for Stress Relief

What a difficult month September was! One of the most challenging I've faced in a long time. It began with the death of my nephew, and continued to spiral out into one stressful event after another. Life was pulling out all the punches and I was feeling every one of them. During times of grief and stress such as this past month was for me, I needed to find the tools that would support me in riding the wave, wherever it might go. My regular yoga practice was sketchy at best, due to traveling cross country, dealing with life's events, and sheer exhaustion.

When we're under duress, our breathing becomes more shallow and adds to the feeling of spinning out of control. But tuning in to patterns of pranayama or breath practice can help soothe the body and relax the fight or flight response through a program of conscious breathing. It's a reminder of how to bring it home, of how to settle it in the body. The resourcefulness of the breath combined with meditation, is what provided the support I needed. Nadi shodhana or alternate nostril breathing is one of the pranayama practices I turned to for support. It helped to settle my body and calm my nerves.

We breathe predominately through one nostril every two hours and then it switches to the other nostril. That is the natural rhythm of healthy breathing. Unfortunately that rhythm is thrown off when we experience emotional, physical or mental distress. Nadi shodhana can corral the breath into its natural state once again.

To begin the practice of nadi shodhana, sit comfortably with the spine erect. Tuck the pointer and middle fingers of your right hand at the base of the thumb. Place the thumb and ring fingers just outside of the nostrils. Close the left nostril with your ring finger and inhale through the right nostril. Then, close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left side. Next, inhale through your left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. To complete one round, close your left nostril and exhale through the right. Continue this breath for at least several more rounds.

In addition to calming the nervous system, alternate nostril breath balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It lowers the heart rate, reduces stress and anxiety, releases tension and fatigue while promoting mental clarity. The energy channels open in the body, allowing toxins to be released and bringing more oxygen into your system. There is a calmness and connection that occurs between the body and the mind.

You don't need to wait for a major life event to occur to begin practicing nadi shodhana. Tuning into this breath on a regular basis contributes greatly to our overall health and well being, so I encourage you to explore this deeply calming practice to experience the benefits that alternate nostril breath provides.

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