Before I began to heal my body through yoga and Ayurveda, headaches were almost a normal part of my life. Tension headaches were the most common, but every few months throughout my 20’s I would get completely debilitating migraines that would last for days. Now I get mild headaches every once in a while, usually when my spine is out of alignment due to my scoliosis or from sitting at my computer for too long, but they are quickly relieved by an adjustment from chiropractor or doing a little yoga.
Two weeks ago I woke up with an excruciating headache that was clearly a sign that something in my body was off. At first I thought it was a side effect of a blood detox that I am doing, but when it persisted for several days despite all of my standard go-to home remedies (neti pot, various nasya (nose) oils, clove oil massage, Sombra; natural pain relieving gel, ginger tea, hot baths + steam, homeopathic headache formula, my TENS unit and my foam roller) I was a little perplexed. I even resorted to ibuprofen which did nothing. About a week into the headache that was primarily on the right side of my head and neck, I decided to do some alternate nostril breathing before my morning meditation session. This method of pranayama (conscious breathing) is known for balancing ida and pingala, the two main channels of energy that run through and around our spines, so I thought it may help a little with this one-sided headache.
I was totally blown away that after about five minutes of this breathing exercise my stubborn headache was almost totally gone. I have never had such a powerful experience with any breathing exercise in the past. The following day my headache was totally gone, but the right side of my neck was still pretty stiff from being clenched up for so long. I got one round of acupuncture, during which I chanted a mantra “my neck is relaxed” and all symptoms, completely dissolved. Talk about getting to the root of the problem instead of just masking the pain. You can bet I am adding this practice into my daily sadhana.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is the best form of pranayama for reducing anxiety and alleviating insomnia. It cleans and opens the sinus passages, regulates and balances blood pressure and heart rate, balances and regulates the flow of blood to the brain, balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, balances all seven chakras, and creates balance in the emotional body.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and vertical. Your hips should be higher than your knees; if they are not, you can sit on a blanket or pillow or simply in a chair.
2. Close your eyes and take several full breaths in and out of your nose at your own pace.
3. Rest your left hand on your left thigh or knee, or make a circle with your thumb and index finger touching and extend your other three fingers straight.
4. Fold the index and middle fingers on your right hand into your palm, leaving your other three fingers extended. Bring your right hand to your nose, and use your thumb to close your right nostril.
5. Inhale through your left nostril, close your left nostril with your ring finger and hold your breath with both nostrils closed, then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril while keeping your left nostril closed. I think of it sort of like going back and forth over a bridge, or better yet, a rainbow.
6. Repeat the process beginning on the other side, breathing first through your right nostril with your left nostril closed.
7. Continue switching from side to side for three to five minutes. If you feel dizzy at any time please stop. When you have been practicing for a long-time, you can work on counting the breaths, and over time slowly work up to an inhale of four counts, hold of sixteen counts, and an exhale of eight counts.