Chandra Bhedana Pranayama in Yoga - Meaning, Steps and Benefits

Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is a single nostril breathing technique used in yoga. In this post, we discuss the meaning, purpose, and benefits of Chandra Bhedana.

Woman doing Chandra Bhedi Pranayama using Vishnu Mudra

In the simplest terms, Chandra Bhedana means left-nostril breathing. The left nostril is called the Chandra Nadi (Lunar channel) in yoga theory. It is one of the three calming/cooling breathing techniques in yoga - the other two being Sheetali and Sitkari.


The origins of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama are found in Yoga Chudamani Upanishad, one of the seminal texts of Kundalini and Tantra Yoga. Yoga texts state that Chandra Bhedana Pranayama purges bad karma - the psychological or emotional baggage we carry. It is also used to purify the Lunar channel and stimulate Kundalini energy. While those Chandra Bhedana benefits may seem intangible and esoteric, it is - without a doubt - an excellent resource to calm an anxious and agitated mind.

“Assuming Padmasana, a yogi must inhale through the left nostril, hold the breath as per his capacity, and exhale through the right nostril. Doing this the yogi should meditate on the disc of the moon or the ocean of milk in the heart.” - Yoga Chundamani Upanishad

The Upanishad outlines the steps of this pranayama technique without giving it a name. The terms ‘Chandra Bhedi, Chandra Nadi, or Chandra Bhedana Pranayama’ were coined by later-day yogis. It paved the way for ‘Moon-Piercing Breath’ – a rather vague English translation.


Meaning and Etymology


Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is a yoga breathing technique that involves inhaling through the left nostril, retaining the breath as per your capacity, and exhaling through the right nostril. The nostrils are blocked using the Vishnu Mudra hand gesture. The benefits of Chandra Bhedana include soothing the nerves, purifying the lunar channel, lowering blood pressure, and cooling the body.

Chandra = Moon | Bhedana = to pass through | Pranayama = exercises to regulate/control

The Sanskrit term Chandra translates to "moon" and Bhedana means "to pass through." Therefore, Chandra Bhedana is a breathing technique wherein “the breath passes through the moon (energy).” The Moon refers to the Ida or the Lunar Channel, we'll discuss that later.


For now, let's take an in-depth look at how to do Chandra Bhedana.


Step-by-Step Instructions

Illustration of Vishnu Mudra (c) www.prana-sutra.com
Vishnu Mudra
  1. Get into any of the acceptable postures for pranayama and indulge in some calm, even breathing to relax the mind and body.

  2. Form the Vishnu Mudra gesture with your right hand (see illustration). The left hand can be placed on the knee or may form a yoga mudra of your choice. When you are ready to begin, exhale heartily and empty the lungs.

  3. Using your right hand, press the tip of your thumb against the right nostril to block it completely. Beginners can inhale through a fully open left nostril and experienced practitioners can partially close the left nostril with the tips of the ring and little finger.

  4. Inhale gently, deeply, and consciously through the left nostril until you fill up your lungs. Once you are ready to exhale, switch the pressure of your fingers.

  5. Block the left nostril (the one from which you inhaled), and partially open the right nostril. Again, beginners can keep the right nostril fully open.

  6. Exhale through the right nostril and empty the lungs.

  7. This is one round of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama.

  8. You can continue for 8 to 10 rounds without a break or pause.

Duration


Chandra Bhedana can be done at any time of the day. However, you must do it on an empty stomach. Beginners can attempt 10-15 rounds and extend it to 10 to 30 minutes gradually. We recommend starting slow and easing into any new practice. Increase the rounds and duration very slowly. Be aware of your limitations and stay within the realm of comfort.


Contraindications


Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is contraindicated in the following cases -

  • Asthma, bronchitis, or respiratory issues

  • Flu, cough, or severe illness

  • Constipation or chest congestion

  • Low blood pressure

  • During pregnancy

Additionally, breath retention may aggravate certain underlying health conditions like hypertension and anxiety. Such people can perform Chanda Bhedana pranayama without breath retention. Lastly, Surya and Chandra Bhedana Pranayama should not be done on the same day.


Benefits of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama

1. Improves prana-flow to Ida Nadi

Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is used to improve the flow of prana in the Ida Channel. The classical text (Yoga Chudamani Upanishad) notes that performing Chandra Bhedana regularly for two months purifies Ida (the left energy channel), leads to good health, and significantly improves a yogi’s ability to retain the breath(1).


2. Therapeutic Uses in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, left nostril breathing is used to reduce fever and treat heartburn(2). For mental health, Chandra Bhedana can be of great help when you are anxious, restless, or afflicted with insomnia. Additionally, the pranayama can help a yogi turn inward for deep meditation.

Fun fact: In yoga texts, the Ida channel in the body is associated with the Ganges river.

3. Kundalini Awakening in Tantra Yoga

As for the esoteric aspects, Chandra Bhedana is one of the methods used in Tantra Yoga to kindle the dormant Kundalini energy. You can learn more about it in the teachings of Yogi Bhajan. If you are looking for an energizing alternative to Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, try Surya Bhedana Pranayama, which has the opposite effect.


4. Parasympathetic Activation

A study(3) observed the impact of 15 minutes of Chandra Bhedana on 30 students in the 18-25 age group. Their findings indicate that Chandra Bhedana Pranayama decreases the sympathetic discharge and reduces stress arousal patterns. Another study(4) on Surya and Chandra Pranayama noted that breathing selectively has an activating and relaxing effect on the sympathetic nervous system.


5. Improves Spatial Memory

A study(5) with a control group observed that the trained groups who practiced right, left, and alternate nostril breathing for ten days. The participants showed higher spatial memory scores than those who did not. The study indicates a possible link between breathing techniques like Chandra Bhedana Pranayama and spatial memory.

These are just some of the science-backed benefits of Chandra Bhedana. There are many more of them that are anecdotal or found in yoga texts (classic and modern).

Chandra Bhedana Pranayama Variations


Variation with Mula Bandha

Woman using hand gesture called Nasagra Mudra during Chandra Bhedana Pranayama
Chandra Bhedana with Nasagra Mudra

After practicing the steps above, add internal breath retention (Antara kumbhaka) – retain the breath between the inhalation and exhalation. Perform Mula bandha (Root Lock) in conjunction with breath retention for as long as you can. Over time, you should be able to retain the breath for 15 to 20 seconds and hold the bandhas over retention.

Add internal breath retention + Mula bandha to the basic practice.

Variation with Uddiyana Bandha


Follow the processes mentioned in the basic practice of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama. Then perform the first variation mentioned above. In addition to those two steps, add external breath retention (bahya kumbhaka) and Uddiyana Bandha (the abdomen lock). Prolonging external breath retention is difficult. Approach it without forcing the body beyond its natural limits. Start slow and gradually increase capacity to 10 seconds.

Add internal retention + Mula bandha or External retention + Uddiyana bandha.

To reiterate, the most advanced variation of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama is as follows:

  1. Block the right nostril completely.

  2. Inhale through the partially blocked left nostril.

  3. Retain the breath (inside) with Mula bandha.

  4. Block left nostril completely.

  5. Exhale through the partially blocked right nostril.

  6. Retain breath (outside) with Udddiyana bandha.

What is the purpose of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama?

Through breath observation, every yoga aspirant knows that the left and right nostrils don't function simultaneously. At any given point, one is passive and the other is active. This process continues in what science calls the nasal cycle. Using Surya or Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, we can alter the cycle and influence our physical or mental activity.


Ida (left) and Pingala (right) - Energy Pathways or Channels in Yoga

Illustration of Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadis in Yoga.

In yoga theory, prana flows in the body through energy channels or pathways called Nadis. Among these, Ida (left), Pingala (right), and Sushumna (Central) are considered to be of great importance. They emerge from the pelvic floor and extend to the head.


Ida represents the creative, feminine principle. It has lunar or moon-like attributes. Therefore, it is also called Chandra (Moon) Nadi. It is connected to the right brain hemisphere and parasympathetic nervous system.


Pingala represents the awakening principle and has masculine and solar attributes. It is also called the Surya (Sun) Nadi. It is associated with the sympathetic nervous system. We will learn more about that in Surya Bhedana Pranayama.


We breathing continuously and repeated through the left nostril during Chandra Bhedana Pranayama. It enhances the flow of prana to the right brain hemisphere. This switches on the parasympathetic nervous system[6]. In turn, the pranayama calms the "over-thinking" mind and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.


Moreover, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and results in a 'comforting' feeling.


Parting Thoughts


Do not forget to check out the steps and benefits of Sheetali and Sitkari, the other two soothing pranayamas used by yogis. Just don't "over cool" your body by doing all three in a day. Any one of them should be sufficient to attain the benefits.

Prana Sutra's content is an amalgam of the personal practice of our writers/editors/yogis, a close reading of the classical yoga texts, and the teachings of modern yoga gurus like B.K.S. Iyengar, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, and others.

References

1. Iyengar, 2005, The Light on Pranayama, Element; First Edition, United Kingdom

2. Watts, 2018, Yoga Therapy for Digestive Health, Singing Dragon; First Edition, United Kingdom

3. Dheeraj, Jeph, et al., "The Effect of Chandra Bhedi Pranayama (Left Nostril Breathing) on Cardiorespiratory and Autonomic Parameters", Scholars Journal of Applied Medical Sciences (SJAMS), Nov. 2018, doi:10.21276/sjams.2018.6.10.59

4. Telles, Shirley, et al. "Breathing Through A Particular Nostril Can Alter Metabolism and Autonomic Activities", Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, vol 38, no. 2, pp. 133-137

5. Naveen, K. V., et al. “Yoga Breathing through a Particular Nostril Increases Spatial Memory Scores without Lateralized Effects.” Psychological Reports, vol. 81, no. 2, Oct. 1997, pp. 555–561, doi:10.2466/pr0.1997.81.2.555.