Why Alternative Nostril Breathing Helps With Stress

At one time or another, we’ve all experienced, the ‘s’ word–STRESS. A feeling of overwhelm, when our breath shortens, our mind races and it feels like you can’t slow down fast enough to create a little order. Sometimes stress likes to arrive unannounced. Other times it can be seen from a mile away. From simple life matters to complex issues, this buzzing energy can be situationally blind. If we could never experience stress again, life would be a box cardamom bliss balls. Sounds ideal, but likely not realistic. Stress happens. What we can try to do is recognize stress in the early stages and find tools to cope when in a situation of stress.

One practice helpful in recognizing “the stress buzz” sooner than later or even when stress crash lands at the front door, is pranayama. Pranayama, an intentional practice of restraining and expanding the breath, is one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Pranayama or breathing exercises has many forms, each with their own benefits in supporting various physical, emotional and mental imbalances. One benefit all forms share is by bringing greater awareness to our breath.


When we are under stress our breathing patterns shifts. In the beginning stages of stress, the changes can be subtle and not apparent until the level of stress increases. Often, when we are preoccupied with the trigger feeding our stress levels, how we are breathing can be the last thing on the mind. However, in spending time with the breath through a pranayama practice we develop a conscious relationship with our breath. As this relationship builds, shifts in our breathing patterns become more noticeable.

It’s similar to how a regular yoga or stretching practice can create sensitivity around muscular tension. A regular practice of pranayama works in a similar manner. Yoga or stretching can put us in touch with how the body feels and intentional daily breathing can connect us to our breath. How we breathe subtly begins to move to the forefront of our thoughts. When shifts in our breathing patterns occur, we become more conscious of the changes. Enabling stress to be detected earlier through our relationship with our the breath.


Although there are various forms of pranayama, for stress, anxiety and nervous energy–imbalances related to vata dosha, anulom vilom or alternate nostril breathing can work wonders for stress. Anulom vilom involves taking inhalation through one nostril, retaining the breath for a few seconds and then exhaling through the other nostril. The exercise is then repeated with the exhalation nostril taking in the inhalation. This practice can be done with or without holding of the breath. For beginners holding the breath is not recommended or in hotter than normal climates.


What is particularly beneficial about anulom vilom is the practice helps to balance our left and right energetic pathways. Knowns as ida nadi, and pingala nadi, which spiral around the sushumna nadi, which runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Passing through each of the seven chakras. The ida nadi begins and ends on the left side of sushumna and activates our right brain. It is a cooling, feminine, intuitive energy associated with the moon. Whereas the pingala nadi activates the left, logical side of our brain. Associated with the sun, it is a warming, masculine energy.

Every 90-minutes, our breathing cycles shift between ida and pingala or the left and right nostril. When there is an imbalance or blocked energy, in the left nostril, ida nadi, we can feel cold, low mental energy and sluggish digestion. When the pingala nadi is imbalanced or blocked, one can feel hot, irritated, angry, dry, have an excessive appetite and physical or sexual energy. Under stress, these imbalances can show-up differently in each individual or the circumstance. One minute, someone can have an angry outburst and the next mental fog. The stress-related behaviors can be as erratic as stress itself.


In fostering balance between ida and pingala nadis through alternate nostril breathing supports cleansing the left and right energetic pathways and balances the two energies. Helping to ground the nervous system. Sometimes known as nadi shodhana, which literally means channel purification or cleansing in Sanskrit, also regulates the flow of prana vayu. Clearing any blockages or stagnation that may provoke stress related imbalances or feeling uncentered.

Balancing ida and pingala nadis is sort of like recalibrating the intuitive and logical sides of ourselves. The left and right brain. When stress is near, or during stress, anulom vilom or alternate nostril breathing can help maintain or regain our directional sense. Allowing some space to reflect on how we feel, the choices we made or to be made. Allowing to move forward physically, mentally, emotionally with grace. Riding stress like a surfer days a wave.


Whether you are looking to de-stress before a test, a big meeting, a difficult conversation, or just manage stress in your daily life, here are 5 key benefits to grounding the “stress buzz” with anulom vilom or alternate nostril breathing

DETECT STRESS EARLY | a practice deepens our relationship with our breath, and increase awareness when are breathing patterns shift

CLEANSE THE CHANNELS | alternative nostril breathing helps with clearing trapped or blocked energy, balancing our left and right energetic channels

IMPROVES CONCENTRATION | by helping to focus thoughts and ground the buzzing energy of stress

FOSTERS BALANCES | between the two hemispheres of the brain: the left, logical side and the right, intuitive side.

CALMS | the nervous system and helps to settle stress


  • Anulom Vilom pranayama should be done on an empty stomach, preferably in the morning after elimination. It can also be done in the evening with a gap of 4 hours after the last meal
  • Those suffering from heart ailments should not attempt retention of breath
  • Avoid retention of breath if you have high blood pressure
  • It is recommended beginners work there way up to holding the breath
  • In hotter than normal climates do not practice anulom vilom
you may also like
Scroll to Top