Alternate Nostril Breath: A Modern Adaptation of an Ancient Yoga Breath Practice

“Sayings of the Breath” by Tom Gillette is a book of poetry on life and breath, while also being a groundbreaking yoga manual that teaches something no one has done before.

It begins with an ancient yoga technique, known as “alternate nostril breathing,” which has received much renewed interest. Many studies have shown this breathing technique is useful for lowering blood pressure and helping with anxiety. It is a simple practice that involves breathing through one nostril at a time, while blocking the other nostril, alternating between the left and right nostrils. It is a beginner yoga practice.

Tom Gillette, a yoga teacher of 35 years, after years of studying and leading daily alternate nostril breath classes claims that very few modern yogis practice the technique long enough, because the traditional yoga instructions are not user friendly. He states, “The way we were taught in the past is downright painful. We were told to sit on the floor, which is a big obstacle for most people. We were told to use the right hand, which means suspending the arm in the air unsupported. When done for more that 15 minutes the position becomes painful and that is where most people stop the practice. They rarely go beyond 15 minutes so very few experience of what happens after that. These traditional instructions are very unfortunate,” claims Mr Gillette.

“What makes the difference with alternate nostril breath is dosage!” claims Mr. Gillette. “Most Americans are not doing enough practice to begin to realize its potential and value.”

What is the proper dose? There is a north Indian yogic teaching that “One Ghatikaa” 24 minutes practiced everyday is the minimum

daily requirement. According to these teachings, the physiological transformation happens slowly and needs to be maintained everyday for 6 to 12 months.

For most people, the traditional instructions of sitting on the floor, and freezing the arm in the air for 24 minutes, seems utterly impossible and discouraging. Mr. Gillette asked the question “how can we make pranayama accessible to everyone? How can a normal person get to 24 minutes of alternate nostril breathing easily, joyfully, and start each day in a grateful, curious and inspired way?”

The breakthrough happened when Mr Gillette asked everyone to stand up and support their elbows on yoga blocks. Standing turns out to be an excellent position for breathing exercises as the whole body can be utilized for practice.

Most people can stand for 24 minutes with their elbows supported on yoga blocks. This takes all the torture out of the alternate nostril practice, and now we can start to really explore the practice. The beauty of this simple change in posture makes yoga’s most powerful technique accessible to anyone, regardless of their level of experience.

As you practice with Mr Gillette, you’ll learn about the right and left differences in your body, and there are many of them. You‘ll experiment with all kinds of gentle postures while alternating the nostrils and focusing on alternating sides of the body.

“We listen to the breath every morning, with gratitude, presence and positivity and this becomes our daily habit. Soon, we begin to be mindful of the breath all day long. We connect into the felt differences between the left side and the right side the body. The breath starts to naturally slow down, without effort and then the amazing things start to happen with our awareness.

After years of intensive practice, Tom Gillette began recording the words that came out of his mouth. He re-crafted them into poetry to instruct, inform and delight his students. If you like breath meditation, and mindfulness practices, you may find the fingers will give you a very tactile direct focus. Alternate nostril breath over the the long term is said to wake up the creative thought mind, increase intelligence, improve memory and so much more. The poems are meant to be read out loud, while practicing left right breath. The topics are wide-ranging but always come back to this next breath, this next moment of life and life passing, right at the tip of our nose. “Sayings of the Breath” offers many excellent readings for yoga teachers to inspire their students.

How can you start practicing?

Everyday there is a free broadcast online. For more information, please visit our website. There, you will also find many pre-recorded breath courses for purchase that develop the practice step by step for the new beginner. Mr. Gillette has many free YouTube videos available to

get you going. Many of Tom’s students have been showing up, everyday, for one year, 2 years and over 3 years, which is a miracle in itself. Find out more.

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