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Alternate Nostril Breathing

August 5, 2013 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Most of us give little thought to the involuntary actions which occur in our bodies on a daily basis: the digestive system absorbing nutrients, hearts beating and circulating blood, livers processing toxins and so on. Beneath the level of conscious awareness resides the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the controller of these vitally important bodily functions and many others. In general, the ANS requires little maintenance. However, sometimes this unsung aspect of our physiology benefits from some assistance in order to work for our greatest good.

We breathe countless times throughout the day. And, much like other autonomic actions, we rarely do so in a mindful way. However, this not the case in the yogic tradition of wellness. Pranayama, a form of controlled breathing that involves alternate nostril inhalation and exhalation has been used for thousands of years to support mental and physical health. What’s more, a recent review in The Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences lists a wide range of psychological conditions which are positively affected by yogic breathing including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. In addition, modern scientific studies report that alternate nostril breathing: a) enhances attention and cognitive functioning by activating the left hemisphere of the brain; b) modulates heart rate variability and, thereby, reduces cardiac arrhythmias; c) improves pulmonary function in healthy adults and those with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

What’s also reassuring is that Pranayama isn’t some esoteric practice that requires long hours of deep meditation and intensive study to learn. Much like yoga itself, there are many ways of practicing it. But, it’s most streamlined version simply requires that you sit with your eyes closed while breathing and exhaling through alternate nostrils. In practice, it works as follows: With your thumb, press one nostril closed as you inhale deeply from the other nostril. Hold the breath for a short period of time – a count of 10 is sometimes recommended. Then, release your thumb and cover your other nostril with your ring finger. Finally, exhale completely through the open (alternate) nostril and repeat the process several times or for up 10 minutes. The effect you’ll likely experience will be one of autonomic balance, clearer thought and relaxation.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity (link)

Study 2 - Effect of Pranayama (Breathing Exercise) on Arrhythmias in the Human (link)

Study 3 - Influence of Alternate Nostril Breathing on Heart Rate Variability in(link)

Study 4 - Effect of Pranayama on Stress and Cardiovascular Autonomic Function (link)

Study 5 – Acute Effects of Deep Breathing for a Short Duration (2-10 Minutes) on (link)

Study 6 - Effect of Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) in Patients w/ Bronchial (link)

Study 7 - The Effect of Yoga Training on Diffusion Capacity in Chronic Obstructive (link)

Study 8 – Changes in P300 Following Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing and Breath (link)

Study 9 - Yoga Breathing Through a Particular Nostril is Associated with (link)

Study 10 - Immediate Effect of Nostril Breathing on Memory Performance (link)

Long Term Alternate Nostril Breathing Enhances Autonomic Control of the Heart

Source: J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 May; 7(5): 821–823. (link)

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3 Comments & Updates to “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

  1. JP Says:

    FYI: When it comes to alternate nostril breathing and cardiovascular health, slower may be better:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3734635/

    Be well!

    JP

  2. JP Says:

    Updated 11/13/16:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27830924

    Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2016 Nov 10.

    Effects of yogic exercises on functional capacity, lung function and quality of life in participants with obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized controlled study.

    BACKGROUND: Knowledge of hatha yogic exercises, the most used yoga style, for increasing functional capacity in patients with obstructive pulmonary diseases remains limited.

    AIM: The aim was to evaluate the effects and feasibility of hatha yoga (HY) compared to a conventional training program (CTP) on functional capacity, lung function and quality of life in patients with obstructive pulmonary diseases.

    DESIGN: RCT (randomized clinical trial).

    SETTING: The study was performed at the Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden among outpatients.

    POPULATION: Thirty-six patients with obstructive pulmonary disease.

    METHODS: Forty patients were randomized with 36 (24 women, median age=64, age range: 40-84 yrs) participating in HY (n=19) or CTP (n=17). Both HY and CTP involved a 12-week program with a 6-month follow-up. Functional capacity (using the 6-minute walk test, 6MWT), lung function (spirometry), respiratory muscle strength (respiratory pressure meter), oxygen saturation (SpO2), breathlessness (Borg), respiratory rate (f) and disease-specific quality of life (CRQ) were measured at baseline, at 12 weeks and at a 6-month follow-up.

    RESULTS: Testing for interactions (group x time) with ANOVAs showed significant effects on the CRQ fatigue (p=0.04) and emotional (p=0.02) domains, with improvements in the CTP group after the 12-week intervention (p=0.02 and 0.01, respectively) but not in the HY group. Within each group, significant improvements emerged for the 6MWD after 12-week intervention (HY: mean difference 32.6 m; CI 10.1-55.1, p=0.014; CTP: mean difference 42.4 m; CI 17.9-67.0, p=0.006). Within-group improvements in CRQ appeared in both groups. Within the HY group, the respiratory rate (f) decreased and SpO2 increased. Improved effects after follow-up emerged only for the CTP group for 6MWD (p=0.04), diastolic blood pressure (p=0.05) and CRQ emotional domain (p=0.01).

    CONCLUSIONS: After 12 weeks, 6MWD improved significantly within both groups. Within the HY group, improvements in the CRQ mastery domain, f and SpO2 emerged. Within the CTP group, there were improvements in lung function parameter forced vital capacity (FVC), respiratory muscle strength and all CRQ-domains. The CTP also exhibited effects on CRQ after the 6months follow-up.

    CLINICAL REHABILITATION IMPACT: Similar effects of HY and CTP show that HY seems feasible and safe as a form of physical exercise for pulmonary disease patients. As part of the rehabilitation, HY may constitute an alternative to other physical training activities and may be a useful addition to formal rehabilitation programs.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. JP Says:

    Updated 01/05/17:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28051319

    J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Jan 4.

    Effects of Yoga on Heart Rate Variability and Depressive Symptoms in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    OBJECTIVES: The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of a 12-week yoga program on heart rate variability (HRV) and depressive symptoms in depressed women.

    METHODS: This was a randomized controlled trial. Twenty-six sedentary women scoring ≥14 on the Beck Depression Inventory-II were randomized to either the yoga or the control group. The yoga group completed a 12-week yoga program, which took place twice a week for 60 min per session and consisted of breathing exercises, yoga pose practice, and supine meditation/relaxation. The control group was instructed not to engage in any yoga practice and to maintain their usual level of physical activity during the course of the study. Participants’ HRV, depressive symptoms, and perceived stress were assessed at baseline and post-test.

    RESULTS: The yoga group had a significant increase in high-frequency HRV and decreases in low-frequency HRV and low frequency/high frequency ratio after the intervention. The yoga group also reported significantly reduced depressive symptoms and perceived stress. No change was found in the control group.

    CONCLUSIONS: A 12-week yoga program was effective in increasing parasympathetic tone and reducing depressive symptoms and perceived stress in women with elevated depressive symptoms. Regular yoga practice may be recommended for women to cope with their depressive symptoms and stress and to improve their HRV.

    Be well!

    JP

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