Mindlab: Breathwork & Hypertension

In this blog we are going to explore the science of a specific Yogic breathing practice called Nadi Sodhana – purification of the nerves (Also known as alternate nostril cleansing). In our last breathwork blog we looked at the science behind regulating the breath and how it affected Heart Rate Variability and increased Vagal Tone. Now lets look at the effects of a specific breath practice.

Nadi Sodhana is one of the most common breathing practices used in Yoga Classes. In the classic book from B.K.S Iyenger, Light on Pranayama, he describes how this particular breath ‘requires constant meticulous attention and firm determination’. This breathing practice consists of an even regulated breath moved through alternate nostrils, while using the right thumb and fourth finger to close the relevant nostril. We are not going to explore the practice in detail as that is a blog in itself. The purpose here is to explain how this practice affects our physiology.

In a study carried our in 2013, Ninety participants with hypertension were split into 3 groups, thirty in each group. One group practiced alternate nostril yoga breathing for 10 minutes, the second group practiced breath awareness for the same duration and the third group was given a control intervention (i.e., reading a magazine with neutral content). Assessments were taken before and after the interventions for participants of the three groups. Following alternate nostril breathing there was a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

 So the practice of alternate nostril cleansing requires dexterity and co-ordination, and requires a great deal of focus and attention, as described above by Iyenger. Researchers also found an improved performance in skilled motor tasks, i.e. attention to detail increased and the ability to perform a task well increased. All good news for individuals in high pressured jobs suffering from hypertension.

Further studies have been carried out all with the same findings. In the next blog we will explore one of the most recent findings in breath work and salivary cytokines. Cytokines are cell-signaling molecules that aid cell to cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.

 2013 Jan 21. doi:  10.12659/MSM.883743