Improve Calmness with Alternate Nostril Yoga Breathing
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“alternate nostril breathing . . . it’s thought to harmonize the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in a balanced in physical, mental and emotional well-being. While science has yet to really explore what might be going on in terms of hemispheric functioning during this practice, recent studies have confirmed some pretty powerful effects of this practice.” – Paula Watkins
Yoga practice is becoming increasingly popular in the west, for good reason. It has documented benefits for the individual’s psychological and physical health and well-being. It has also been shown to have cognitive benefits, improving memory. Yoga, however, consists of a number of components including, poses, breathing exercises, meditation, concentration, and philosophy/ethics. So, it is difficult to determine which facet or combination of facets of yoga are responsible for which benefit. Hence, it is important to begin to test each component in isolation to determine its effects.
Alternate nostril yoga breathing is a regulated breathing alternating between the left and right nostril. Breathing through each nostril is thought to affect its respective hemisphere in the brain producing differential effects. In today’s Research News article “Hemisphere specific EEG related to alternate nostril yoga breathing.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5525313/ ), Telles and colleagues examine the effects of alternate nostril yoga breathing on brain activity and the emotional state of the practitioner. They recruited healthy adult practitioners of alternate nostril yoga breathing. They were randomly assigned on different days to either practice alternate nostril yoga breathing, breath awareness, or quiet sitting for 18 minutes. Before, during, and after each practice the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from the scalp of the practitioners.
They found that during alternate nostril yoga breathing there was significantly decreased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain in both the Beta frequency band (13-30 cycles per second) of the EEG and the Theta frequency band (4-7.5 cycles per second). On the other hand, during quiet sitting there was increased Beta activity and decreased Alpha band (8-12 cycles per second) activity.
Theta activity in the EEG of the frontal lobe is associated with positive emotional states and memory activity. Beta activity is associated with increased alertness, excitement, and arousal. Alpha activity is associated with complex cognitive (thought) processes. Hence, during alternate nostril yoga breathing the EEG activity suggests that the practitioner goes into a state of relaxation (reduced arousal) while during quiet sitting the practitioner goes into a state of arousal with decreased thinking.
This study demonstrates that the different components of yoga practice may have strikingly different effects on the nervous system and the state of the practitioner. The results are interesting and verify that alternate nostril yoga breathing produces different changes in brain activity than breath awareness or quiet sitting. The results suggest that alternate nostril yoga breathing produces a relaxed, calm state. This further suggests that this technique might be useful for treating anxiety disorders. Indeed, there is evidence that alternate nostril yoga breathing calms the anxious individual.
So, improve calmness with alternate nostril yoga breathing.
““alternate nostril breathing,” is a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind, body, and emotions. You can use it to quiet your mind before beginning a meditation practice, and it is particularly helpful to ease racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble falling asleep.” – Melissa Eisler
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Telles, S., Gupta, R. K., Yadav, A., Pathak, S., & Balkrishna, A. (2017). Hemisphere specific EEG related to alternate nostril yoga breathing. BMC Research Notes, 10, 306. http://doi.org/10.1186/s13104-017-2625-6
Previously, forced unilateral nostril breathing was associated with ipsilateral, or contralateral cerebral hemisphere changes, or no change. Hence it was inconclusive. The present study was conducted on 13 normal healthy participants to determine the effects of alternate nostril yoga breathing on (a) cerebral hemisphere asymmetry, and (b) changes in the standard EEG bands.
Participants were randomly allocated to three sessions (a) alternate nostril yoga breathing (ANYB), (b) breath awareness and (c) quiet sitting, on separate days. EEG was recorded from bilaterally symmetrical sites (FP1, FP2, C3, C4, O1 and O2). All sites were referenced to the ipsilateral ear lobe.
There was no change in cerebral hemisphere symmetry. The relative power in the theta band was decreased during alternate nostril yoga breathing (ANYB) and the beta amplitude was lower after ANYB. During quiet sitting the relative power in the beta band increased, while the amplitude of the alpha band reduced.
The results suggest that ANYB was associated with greater calmness, whereas quiet sitting without specific directions was associated with arousal. The results imply a possible use of ANYB for stress and anxiety reduction.