Yoga How-To: Alternate Nostril Breathing
Pranayama, or breath control (prana = life force or breath, yama = control), is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Although much emphasis has currently been placed on asanas (body postures), this is only another one of the eight limbs of yoga. In fact, the asanas were often traditionally taught only to prepare the body for the five limbs of yoga that follow: pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. (The other two limbs that come before asanas are yamas and niyamas.)
Pranayama is a powerful way to help clear and relax the mind by controlling the way in which energy (or breath) moves through the body. Alternate Nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayam) is a simple technique that can be used to help reduce the chatter in the mind, thus making it a great tool for controlling emotions and preparing yourself for meditation. This type of pranayama works by helping to restore balance to the nadis (or energy channels) in the body, particularly Ida and Pingala, the two that run criss-cross along the spine.
The video below by Sri Sri Yoga is a short demonstration of how this form of pranayama is practiced. Before starting, be sure to find a comfortable seat. Sit tall and relax the muscles in your face, neck, and shoulders.