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Have you ever regretted getting angry at someone to the point of self-detriment? Have you regretted writing that angry letter or saying something unpleasant that caused hurt and ruined a relationship? Chances are you are nodding right now. But what if our schools or the environment we grew up in taught us to do better? What if we learned practices and techniques to remain calm and steady when people or situations triggered us? It is never too late to learn.
We often think our emotions are on autopilot and that we have no control over them, but that is not entirely true. There is a secret that if you learned to use and practice, could change your life forever.
The Great Secret About Breath
There is a link between our body, mind, and emotions and that link is our breath. What we cannot control through affirmation, we can control through our breath. For example, you may tell yourself to calm down when there is a situation that triggers anger and frustration in you. It is unlikely that your mind is going to listen to you. Here, breath is a more helpful choice to tame the anger, because we all know too well that an action led by anger, impulse, and lack of awareness can only bring you more harm than good.
It helps to know one of the greatest yogic secrets there is—every emotion we experience has a particular rhythm of breath attached to it. For example, when you are peaceful, you in-breath and out-breath are long and slow. When you are angry or restless, you breathe in a certain way and similarly when you are happy, there is a pattern to your breath. So what if we reverse engineered this knowledge to our benefit? That is the science of pranayama.
The science of breath is vast and deep. Our breath holds secrets of life. We can regulate our mind and emotions by regulating our breath. Tending to your breath not only increases your energy levels but can also heal many mental, psychosomatic, and lifestyle-related illnesses. But it is important to practice the techniques correctly. Pranayama is the science of consciously regulating your prana or the universal life force, by using systematic breathing practices.
The Science of Nadis and the Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique
The Sanskrit word nadi stands for ‘channel’ and shodhana means purification. Nadis are the subtle metaphysical energy channels throughout our body; a perfect network of 72,000 nadis irrigates our body with the prana or the life energy, making us conscious and whole. The knowledge of nadis is very deep and subtle. All the aspects of one’s life are governed by different nadis. You may be surprised to know that creative skills like writing or composing music, the power of intuition, as well as negative feelings of jealousy, lust, greed, and anger, and all the positive feelings like love and compassion—are all dependent upon the energy flow in different nadis. If all the 72,000 nadis are working fine and in harmony, a person will be perfectly healthy and blissful.
Ida, Pingala and Sushumna—The Three Principal Nadis
Three nadis—Ida, Pingala and Sushumna—are known to be the principal nadis. Ida is related to the left nostril and is also called chandra nadi (chandra means moon in Sanskrit) as it is associated with lunar energy. When this nadi is active, one experiences a cooling effect on mind and body as this nadi helps in maintaining the cold and anabolic activities of the body. The right nostril is related to pingala, also called surya nadi (surya is the sun) because of its association with solar energy. This nadi has a heating effect and helps in maintaining the body temperature. The sushumna nadi lies in between the ida and pingala. It begins in the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine and goes all the way to brahmarandhra at the crown of the head. Sushumna nadi is activated when both ida and pingala are balanced. Normally one of them dominates during different time periods in our life.
Even the metabolism of the body depends on which nadi is dominant at the time when you eat. When right nadi (pingala) is dominant, the metabolism is good and when the left nadi (ida) is dominant, one should drink something rather than eating.
Functioning of the right nostril activates the left brain which is related to logical thinking, calculations, technical ideas, and understanding, while the left nostril activates the right brain which is related to things like music, poetry, acting, and emotions.
Whenever you go to a place that has positive vibrations and where spiritual activities are conducted, you will notice that both nostrils are equally functional and the prana is moving through the sushumna nadi. Meditation happens only when breath is flowing equally through both nostrils.
Prana can circulate freely only when all the energy channels are strong and devoid of any blockages. A blocked nadi is the root cause behind ailments and persistent negative emotions. Unhealthy lifestyle, prolonged stress, toxins in food and environment, physical or mental trauma are some of the reasons that can lead to obstructions in the nadis. Nadi shodhana pranayama, or the alternate nostril breathing, is an effective breathing practice that uses alternate nostrils, one at a time for breathing in and out, thus making both nostrils active. This practice not only effectively clears your blocked energy channels, but also brings instant relaxation and clarity of mind by restoring the equilibrium between the ida and pingala nadis.
Benefits of Nadi Shodhana
- It helps bring equilibrium between the two brain hemispheres.
- It significantly improves your meditation, brings it depth. One can even say, it prepares you for meditation.
- Improves clarity and perception. If you find it difficult to focus, practice 9 rounds of nadi shodhana pranayama and a quick 15 minute meditation right before getting down with the task and see the difference for yourself!
- Increases energy levels and calms the mind; helps in better decision making. You can practice the technique before undertaking a stressful task. Give it a try before you appear for your next interview and witness your confidence soar!
- Regulates metabolism and helps digestion.
- Improves respiratory function.
- Helpful in clearing blocked sinuses and relieving migraines and other headaches.
- Aids better management of blood pressure.
- Balances the tridoshas.
- Improves haemoglobin levels.
As the nadis get cleansed over time, many ailments related to blocked nadis are eased. Improved circulation of prana in the body enhances creativity, and washes away negative emotions like jealousy, lust, greed, anger.
How to do Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Sit in sukhasana, the easy pose. You can also sit comfortably in a chair/sofa while keeping your back straight.
- Place your left hand on your left knee, with palms open to the ceiling, or opt for chin mudra (the thumb and index finger slightly touching each other at the tip, while other three fingers are straight and palm facing towards the sky).
- Close your eyes and keep a gentle smile on your face.
- Gently bring your right palm to your face, and place the thumb on the right nostril. The tip of your index finger and middle finger very gently touches your forehead, in between your eyebrows, right where your agna chakra lies. Use the remaining two fingers to open and close the left nostril. Exhale gently through the left nostril while keeping your right nostril closed with the help of your thumb.
- Now slowly inhale from your left nostril and then use your ring finger and little finger to close the left nostril by gently pressing on it. Exhale slowly from the right nostril as you lift your thumb from your right nostril. Now inhale from the right nostril, close the right nostril and gently exhale through the left. This makes one round of nadi shodhana pranayama.
- Repeat the same steps to complete nine such rounds, or continue this pranayama for five minutes.
While practicing it, do make sure all your attention is on your breath. Breathe as slowly and gently as possible, almost tasting your breath with each inhalation and exhalation. This will bring your mind to the present moment. Observe your breath becoming smoother with each round. A smooth breath implies a calm and centred mind.
Points to Remember
- Sit in a quiet and comfortable place.
- Breathe out as slowly as you breathe in, even slower if possible.
- Start with the left nostril and finish with the right.
- Keep your back straight and shoulders totally relaxed.
- Don’t try too hard. Remember, this is not a torture session. It should be done with gentleness and alertness.
- Do not breathe out through the mouth like you do in Ujjayi breath.
- When you are placing your fingers in between the eyebrows, it must be lightly placed. Or you can even fold these two fingers up.