Seven Breathing Practices to Help Overcome Addiction


breathing exercises for addiction

Breath, Thoughts, Emotions

Our breathing patterns are intimately linked to our thoughts and emotions. Shallow breathing generates anxiety; slow deep breathing induces calm. Left nostril breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation; right nostril breathing activates the sympathetic nervous system and energizes. When we bring awareness and mastery to our breath we: promote health and vitality; expand the range and flexibility of our emotions; more easily regulate our moods; develop concentration; and feel more connected. When we breathe consciously on a continual basis it is easier to direct our lives and achieve our potential. All of these outcomes help us to decrease addictive behaviour.

Ultradian Rhythms and the Nasal Cycle

We have a physiological need to relax and breathe deeply at least every 2 ½ hours throughout the day. Ordinarily we breathe predominantly through one nostril at a time for a 90-120 minute period, and then breathe through both nostrils for approximately 20 minutes. This is followed by predominance of the other nostril for another 90-120 minutes. This cycle occurs day and night and is known as an ultradian rhythm (one that occurs more than once in a 24 hour cycle).

When the left nostril is dominant, the right hemisphere of the brain exhibits more activity. The right hemisphere is linked to creative thought, intuition, non-linear thinking, a sense of timelessness and appreciation of art, music and poetry. With left nostril dominance the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, causing us to feel more relaxed. Blood pressure may decrease with left nostril breathing.

When the right nostril is dominant, the left hemisphere of the brain shows more activity. The left hemisphere is related to linear thinking, assertiveness and aggressiveness, concentrated study, athletic activity, mathematical problem solving, and logic.

The 20-Minute Break

The 20-minute period when both nostrils are dominant is a time of integration between hemispheres. This is often the time when we want to daydream, fantasize, reflect, have a break from what we were doing, or process emotional material. It is the time of reconciliation between mind and body, when we are more open to receive and pay attention to the messages from the body. It is the time when we are primed to receive intuitive impulses, inner guidance and connect to our spiritual selves. Stopping to do slow long deep breathing exercises at this time is a very beneficial habit to develop. Stress and the use of stimulants such as coffee, smoking, alcohol, overwork or sugar robs us of this period of integration.

A specific technique to break addictions is to inhale and suspend the breath.  Anytime you desire something and you want to get away from that desire, the basic mantra is “inhale and hold the breath”. Anytime you hold the breath, desire will disappear… If you really want to get rid of something very unique and you don’t know how, exhale totally and hold the breath out. You can’t even think of what you had been desiring, you are cleaned out on the spot, because the link of all life and all desires or no desires is just the breath. As thoughts constantly come to you from the intellect, so come the desires. And the moment you hold the breath, the intellect stops giving you a current of thought. You can’t think; you can just have a thought, but you can’t have a wave, you can’t have a desire, you can’t have emotions, the whole thing stops.[1]

      The only way to control our thoughts is by controlling our breath. When you do not control your breath consciously, it works unconsciously. Every breath you breathe unconsciously is wasted. Every breath you breathe consciously is breath gained. That is the difference between divinity and duality. Only you can control your breath. [2]

Pranayams are specific breathing techniques that utilize the rhythm and depth of the breath to effect and manage different energy states of health, consciousness and emotion. The mind follows the breath. When we practice pranayams on a regular basis we can more assuredly control our thoughts and emotions and can decrease our physical and emotional reactions to stress, thereby releasing our need for an addictive substance. We have included pranayams in each of the 16 modules of the Beyond Addiction program. The techniques below can also be used whenever necessary to help decrease your stress response, stabilize your energy, shift your mood, and increase your projection and success.

7 Breathing Techniques to Help Control Cravings

  1. Take at least 3 long deep conscious breaths every 31 minutes.
    It is a physiological requirement to slow down every half hour or so and relax, taking a few long, deep breaths. This will diffuse the stress response and help us to live in the moment with greater appreciation and awareness.
  2. Recognize the ultradian rhythm nostril shift every 2 ½ hours.
    To maintain your vitality throughout the day, practice deep breathing exercises every 2 ½ hours. Eleven minutes of practice will help to balance your autonomic nervous system and glandular system. This will have lasting benefits and discourage cravings, which often surface when we are fatigued or feel we haven’t enough energy for the task at hand.
  3. Take seven deep breaths, with breath retention, when you are tired or your mind is overactive.
    When you feel exhausted and need something to pick you up, rely on the breath. Inhale and suspend the breath, Exhale, let it out. Repeat slowly seven times. This will boost circulating oxygen and lift your energy. You have only one thing – your breath. You will only know who you are if you know the length and strength of your breath. When your mind does not stop and you go crazy, just hold the breath. In one second you forget why you are doing it. Because when you breathe in and hold it in, the mind comes into the balance center. When you breathe out and hold it out, your mind becomes intuitive. Life is very simple. Pave the way for your own knowledge.[4]
  4. Slow down your breathing to less than 11 breaths per minute, and work towards being able to practice a one-minute breath.
    People who do breathing exercises will have the capacity for very long breaths. They will have extra prana. They are achievers.  [5]
    When we slow our breathing down to 8 breaths per minute, we induce relaxation and relief from stress. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated and healing processes are initiated. Since stress is a major causative factor in addiction, the ability to slow your breathing down is a necessity in order to recover. Happiness is proportional to the rate of your breathing and the length of each breath.
    If you can slow the breath down to four breaths per minute, you will have positive shifts in mental function and enhanced awareness. There is improved coordination between the pineal and pituitary glands, and you easily enter into a meditative state. Since addictive substances damage the pineal and its relationship to the pituitary, pranayams that use slow, long deep breathing are very beneficial.
    When you are able to slow the breath down to one breath per minute (20 seconds to inhale, 20 seconds to hold, 20 seconds to exhale) you calm anxiety, fear and worry, integrate both hemispheres of the brain, and open up to experience your spiritual nature. Intuition develops. The whole brain works – especially the old brain and the frontal hemispheres.[6]
  5. Practice Left Nostril Breathing
    Left nostril breathing is particularly effective for compulsive eating. If you feel the urge to binge or eat compulsively, sit in easy pose with a straight spine. Block the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand. Deeply inhale through your left nostril, and hold the breath in to your capacity. Then exhale through the left nostril and hold the breath out for the same amount of time as you held it in. Continue for 31 minutes. Ninety days of practicing this breath technique for 31 minutes per day can take care of most chronic cases. It should be long, deep breathing through the left nostril without pressure on the diaphragm. [7]
  6. Practice Breath of Fire.
    Breath of fire is a powerful remedy for many ailments. Breath of fire releases toxins from the lungs, mucous linings, blood vessels and cells while expanding the lung capacity. This is a wonderful technique for smokers to practice daily. It improves immune system function, leading to greater resistance to infectious disease and cancer. It strengthens the nervous system to help us better adapt to stress and balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It improves endurance and increases the delivery of oxygen to the brain. Breath of fire synchronizes the body’s biorhythms and adjusts the aura’s electromagnetic field, which energizes the blood. It can help reduce cravings for drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and junk food.[8] To help overcome addiction, a half hour daily is recommended – this can be practiced in several sittings. Practice Breath of Fire with instruction from Sat Dharam Kaur Sat Dharam Kaur teaching Breath of Fire
  7. Practice Sitali Pranayam
    Sitali pranayam soothes and cools the spine and helps regulate the sexual and digestive energy. This breath is often used for lowering a fever. When practiced regularly, it helps to rejuvenate and detoxify. [9] Sitali breathing is a wonderful practice to help detoxify drug residues and/or to stop smoking – 26 breaths in the morning and 26 breaths in the evening. Sitali Pranayam is practiced by curling the tongue in to a “U”, protruding it outward past your lips, and slowly inhaling through the curled tongue, exhaling through the nose.

Join us at upcoming in-person or online Beyond Addiction program to learn more techniques to make recovery easier.  An online program begins May 3, 2016, available anywhere.

Sat Dharam Kaur ND is a naturopathic doctor, Kundalini Yoga teacher trainer and creator of the Beyond Addiction program.


[1] Yogi Bhajan. Women in Training XVII. KWTC 1992. © H.S.K. Yogiji. p.92

[2] Yogi Bhajan. A Year with the Master. Conscious Breathing. p. 93. Nov 27, 2000, Espanola, N.M. USA.

[3] Yogi Bhajan. A Year with the Master. Reflecting Identities, p. 27 Jan 17, 2000, Espanola, N.M. USA.

[4] Yogi Bhajan. A Year with the Master. Self-Reliance. p. 33. Feb. 14, 2000, Los Angeles, CA. USA.

[5] Yogi Bhajan. A Year with the Master. Recharge Yourselfp. 43. April 12, 2000, Espanola, N.M. USA.

[6] Yogi Bhajan. The Aquarian Teacher. Kundalini Research Institute. Espanola, New Mexico, USA. 2003. p.91.

[7] Yogi Bhajan. from meditation “Restraining Compulsive Eating”. KWTC 1979. (in Praana, Praanee, Pranayam p. 109)

[8] Yogi Bhajan. The Aquarian Teacher. Kundalini Research Institute. Espanola, New Mexico, USA. 2003. p. 95.

[9] Yogi Bhajan. Sadhana Guidelines for Kundalini Yoga Daily Practice. p. 79

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