Balancing the Hemispheres of the Brain with the Breath

BRAIN + BREATH


Each of us is born with an innate skill and tool that we carry with us every moment of every day. As a tool, it has the power to alter our minds; as a skill, it can completely shift and change our entire day. This magic wand is simply our ability to breathe. Whether it is conscious or habitual, from the second we enter the world to the moment we leave, we’re breathing. 


Following direction to take a deep breath has been something we’ve used as both an idiom and a piece of advice from a young age. Utilizing our breath as a means to pause and take a step back from an otherwise hectic or chaotic situation is not only well-known, but it’s also easily forgotten. This is because breathing comes so naturally to each of us that instead of tapping into it, we tend to react with our brains rather than our bodies. 


Still, our breath has the amazing ability to create shifts in our thinking patterns and moods so much so that tapping into our capabilities to use it as a tool and a skill are amongst one of life’s greatest gifts in maintaining balance and peace on a very personal standpoint. 


On the same note, our most intelligent organ, the brain, is split into two hemispheres: the left side brain and the right side brain. The Left Side Brain refers to the parts that control logic, facts, mathematics and linear thinking while the Right Side Brain refers to the parts that involve creativity, feelings, imagination and arts. Generally speaking, as humans we tend to favor one side over the other just like we would put most of our weight on one foot as opposed to the other depending on whichever felt most comfortable. Intentionally creating a balance between your left leg and your right leg ensures your body stays in alignment. If you think about it, why wouldn’t we put emphasis on the same for our brains? 


Clinical psychologist, Paula Watkins, states, “Breathing consciously is a powerful act. The process of breathing sits directly at the interface of our voluntary nervous system (aspects of our physiology under our conscious control) and our autonomic nervous system (aspects generally not under conscious control). It’s a direct path for us to communicate quickly to the brain via what we do with our body. It also offers a direct link for balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) branches of the nervous system.” 


That’s where Nadi Shodhana comes in. Nadi Shodhana, also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing, is a breathing technique that involves intentional breathing through one nostril at a time at even, alternating paces to balance out the two hemispheres of the brain. The tried and trusted benefits of this breathing technique include enhancing respiratory function, calming the nervous system, reducing blood pressure, and clearing energetic channels of the brain. This clearing of energetic channels is where the balance comes in. By sending spurts of oxygen to each side of the brain via the nostrils, we’re clearing out stagnance and activating otherwise resting brain function to allow for full engagement and functionality. 


How to Nadi Shodhana: 


Start by finding a comfortable seat where you can feel grounded and stable. Since the intention of this breath is to balance the two sides of the brain, you’ll need a solid foundation to facilitate this. 


Sit up tall with a straight spine, let your shoulders relax, and reach the crown of your head to the sky to create length from the floor to the top of your head. 


Resting your left hand on your lap, lift your right hand out in front of your face and make a peace sign first. Either bend your pointer and middle finger in to rest the tips of these two fingers on your inner palm or bring your hand close to your face and rest them on the bridge of your nose. 


Keeping your hand where it is, use your thumb to close your right nostril and let your ring and pinky finger rest on the outside of your left nostril without closing it. 


Close your eyes and with your right nostril closed, take a big smooth inhale through your left nostril to the count of 4. Once you fill all the way up, press your ring and pinky finger in to close up your left nostril, release your thumb from your right and exhale out of your right nostril to the count of 4. 


Reversing the direction, this time inhale through your right nostril. At the top, release your ring and pinky and use your thumb to close the right side. Exhale through your left nostril and you’ve just completed one full round. 


Repeat 5-10 rounds.