September 6, 2022/Wellness

How and Why To Try Alternate Nostril Breathing

This style of breathwork can invigorate you and help you focus

Fingers pinch nose and press on left nostril but keep other nostril open for breathing.

How often do you stop to think about your breath? Probably not very often, if you’re like most people. In, out, in, out … as long as your body is doing what it’s supposed to do, you’re likely not giving much thought to this particular bodily function.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But maybe it’s time to start. Techniques like alternate nostril breathing can help you relieve stress, improve concentration and even become a better breather overall.

Integrative medicine specialist Melissa Young, MD, explains why this yogic breathing technique is so good for you and walks you through exactly how to do it for the best benefits.

What is alternate nostril breathing?

Known in Sanskrit as Nadī Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing is also sometimes called channel-cleaning breath — and actually, those two names tell you a lot about what it can do.

Nadī refers to the energy that circulates throughout your body, while Shodhana refers to purifying or cleansing. Nadī Shodhana, then, is said to help clear your energy channels and bring about inner balance.

“You do it by isolating each nostril, breathing in through only one of them at a time and then exhaling through the other,” Dr. Young says. Before sharing a step-by-step guide to doing it yourself, though, she explains some of the health benefits.

Benefits of alternate nostril breathing

In general, breathwork can positively affect your mental and physical health, and alternate nostril breathing has some particular benefits. Here’s what this technique can do for you and why it’s worth practicing.

Relieves stress

Your body can go into “fight or flight” mode even when it’s not in imminent danger. Blame it on your sympathetic nervous system, the part of your body responsible for this function, which also activates when you’re under stress.

But you can counteract it by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which plays a huge role in helping you feel calm and relaxed. Breathing techniques like alternate nostril breathing are a great way to do so.


“When the body is in that relaxed state, it can actually start to heal and repair,” Dr. Young says. “Calming our nervous system is so important for our health because we know that stress plays a role in a number of medical conditions.”

One study found that after practicing alternate nostril breathing for 12 weeks, male participants reported lower levels of stress. Another study found that this technique helped lower stress in pregnant survivors of intimate partner violence.

Sharpens your focus and energy

Relaxing your parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t necessarily mean becoming so chill that you’re a limp noodle. In fact, this particular type of breathwork can leave you feeling surprisingly invigorated.

“Like all breathing techniques, alternate nostril breathing is very calming,” Dr. Young says, “but you may also find that it leads you to clearer, brighter concentration and higher levels of energy.”

One study found that alternate nostril breathing decreases blood pressure while increasing alertness. (For that reason, this breathing technique isn’t your best choice before bed. To lull yourself to sleep, try 4-7-8 breathing instead.)

Improves your overall breathing

Practicing something makes you better at it — and breathing is no different. “Most of us don’t actually breathe as well as we should,” Dr. Young says.

But alternate nostril breathing can help. It’s been shown to improve cardiorespiratory function, or the way your heart and lungs work together to make sure you’re getting enough oxygen. It even helps competitive swimmers maintain respiratory endurance while they’re in the water.

How to do alternate nostril breathing

To start, Dr. Young says, “Take a seat, whether in a chair or the floor. It doesn’t matter which you choose, so long as you’re sitting up straight and tall.”

The idea of alternate nostril breathing is to isolate each nostril, breathing in through one and exhaling through the other. Here’s how to practice this breathing technique:

  1. To start, exhale through your mouth, making a “whooshing” sound.
  2. Bring your right hand up to your nose, with your index finger hovering over your left nostril and your thumb hovering over your right nostril.
  3. Use your thumb to block your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Use your index finger to block your left nostril. At this point, both nostrils should be held closed.
  5. With both nostrils blocked, hold your breath for a beat or two.
  6. Release your thumb to unblock your right nostril and exhale.
  7. Take a pause at the bottom of your exhale. Then, keeping your left nostril closed, inhale through your right nostril.
  8. Use your thumb to block off your right nostril. With both nostrils held closed, hold your breath again for a beat or two.
  9. Release your index finger to unblock your left nostril and exhale.


In summary, that’s in through your left, out through your right; in through your right, out through your left. Whenever a nostril isn’t in use for an inhale or an exhale, it should be held shut with your finger or thumb.

Repeat the process for as long as you like. Dr. Young recommends five minutes at a time.

Keep it up!

Try to do five minutes of alternate nostril breathing per day to reap the most benefits. But be gentle with yourself if you can’t get the hang of it right away.

“It’s not always easy to remember or act out the sequence of this particular breathing technique,” Dr. Young concedes. “But if you continue to practice it, you will see positive impacts on your health and well-being.”

To hear more on this topic, listen to the Health Essentials Podcast episode, “Breathwork for Beginners.” New episodes of the Health Essentials Podcast publish every Wednesday.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person sleeping in bed with tape on mouth to stop snoring.
September 7, 2022/Sleep
Mouth Taping: Is It Safe?

Mouth taping isn’t a recommended treatment for sleep apnea or snoring

man breathing through mouth after exercising
November 17, 2020/Lung
Should I Breathe Through My Mouth or Through My Nose?

A pulmonary medicine specialist explains what's best

Bottle of essential oil on plate of potpourri, with and candles
May 13, 2024/Wellness
Can You Reduce Stress With Aromatherapy?

Research shows how the use of essential oils can offer a calming effect

Bowls of processed snacks, potato chips, carmel corn, pretzels, cheese puffs
April 29, 2024/Wellness
5 Types of Foods That Cause Inflammation

Cut back on foods made with added sugars, trans fats, refined carbs, omega-6 fatty acids and processed meats

Person smiling, lying back, eyes closed, relaxing in long grass
April 19, 2024/Wellness
Is Earthing Actually Good for You? Here’s What We Know

Connecting with the Earth and its energy might improve your mental and physical health — but it’s not a cure-all

Saw palmetto bush
April 15, 2024/Wellness
Why Saw Palmetto Benefits Are Overstated

Research suggests the effect of the supplement, particularly for prostate health, may not deliver believed benefits

Couple sleeping cuddled in bed, with oversized hand holding pill in foreground
April 12, 2024/Wellness
The Dangers of Recreational Viagra

The risks of taking Viagra without erectile dysfunction range from mild side effects to dangerous drug interactions

Person shoveling snow
March 14, 2024/Wellness
Shoveling Snow? Tips To Prevent Back Injury or Pain

Stretch before heading outside, keep proper form and avoid jerking or twisting to throw snow

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey