As I've mentioned before, I started practicing yoga with a real resistance to breathing exercises. For example, Nadi Shodhana (or Alternate Nostril Breathing) totally made no sense to me, while I see others really getting into it. Those people, I decided, were weird. End of story.
Well this past weekend at the Yoga Journal conference I was lucky enough to hear Dr. Tim McCall, MD speak about his work and book, Yoga as Medicine. He happened to cite nadi shodhana as an example of yoga's century-old knowledge and something modern medicine has only recently tapped into. Turns out, the left nostril is connected to the right side of the brain and the sympathetic nervous system. The right nostril is connected to the left side of the brain and parasympathetic nervous system. How are they connected? With a rope? A chunnel? I sure as heck don't know, but the guy's a doctor so let's assume it's probably a proven fact. Further, he said that a healthy person's inhalations naturally alternate between the left and right nostril every few hours during the day.
Nadi Shodhana is known in yoga as a balancing breath. And this starts to make a lot of sense given the information about the nostrils and sides of the brain. I am now believing that it really can tone the mind and nervous system. It's like practicing with the two sides of the brain "on, off, on, off" and bringing opposite forces into balance.
It also helps clear out both sides of my nose during this allergy season. So what the hey, give it a go! And have some tissues nearby.