Why do we practice alternate nostril breathing?

Pranayama is probably my favourite part of my yoga practice as, so far, it has given me the most positive, effective and immediate results along my journey, offering benefits such as clarity of mind, energy and bringing about harmony to body and mind. Alternate nostril br

eathing, or Nadi Shodhana, is one of my favourite pranayama techniques and probably the one that I teach most in my classes, as almost everyone can close off a nostril and breathe in to the opposite one! But why do we manipulate the breath to flow through different nostrils? Well, it’s all to do with the left and right sides of the brain, the nadis, the chakras and ultimately, the kundalini energy that lies at the base of the spine. If you don’t have a clue what 3/4 of these things are, then read on…

So here’s a little bit of brain gym for you. Coincidentally, about the brain. Here goes… The right side of the brain is the female side, not in a gender sense but in terms of energy. Feminine, or lunar, energy is calm, cool, passive and creative. The left side of the brain is the is masculine, or solar energy that is active, stimulating, passionate and logical. Are you ready for the brain workout? The right side of the brain governs the left side of the body and the left side of the brain governs the right side of the body. I remember it this way: You’ve probably heard the theory that left-handed people are more creative. So if you remember left-hand = creativity = opposite side of the brain. Simple! Or not. Sometimes I get confused too, hence the reason for this post. Another theory to help you remember is that it is said that Sir Elton John’s head is larger on the right side, indicating that the right side of his brain is extremely dominant and he’s very creative in my humble opinion!

So what does this have to do with the nostrils? Well, the left nostril is governed by the right brain (as we now know) so if that nostril isn’t very clear i.e. it’s whistling when you breathe through it, then you know that the right side of the brain is being over-ruled by the left. If that’s the case, check your right nostril and it’s probably super clear, unless you have a cold or another nasal/sinus related condition. It is said that the side of the brain which is dominant fluctuates throughout the day. You can put this to the test by blocking off the nostrils, individually, every hour or so to check. As a guideline, when the left nostril is blocked, tasks requiring intuition and creativity are best undertaken and when the right nostril is blocked, physical tasks should be performed.

The nadis are energy channels within the subtle body, of which there are said to be 72000. You’ll be pleased to hear we’re only going to talk about 2. In a later post we will discuss the 3rd, which relates to the chakras. The first 2 are Ida and Pingala (Nice names for kids don’t you think… Ida, your tea’s ready. Where’s your brother, Pingala?!). Ida gives us direct access to the right side of the brain through the left nostril and vice versa with pingala. These 2 nadis originate at the base of the spine and intertwine around 6 of the chakras, the energy centres within the subtle body. We will discuss the chakras individually at a later stage but for now all you need to know that to even begin unblocking the stuck energy that might be stagnant within the chakras, you first need to purify the nadis. If the nadis are blocked, they will be unable to conduct the life force energy, prana, around the body.

To practice Hatha yoga is to bring balance the male and female energies and nadi shodhana is part of hatha yoga. Nadi, as we know means energy channel, and shodhana is sanskrit for purify. The practice of nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, cleanses the nadis, allowing the prana to flow freely throughout them. This pranic energy is then stored in the chakras with the help of other hatha yoga practices such as bandha and mudra (a post for a later date), and once this energetic current flows freely in the subtle body, kundalini begins to rise. As I briefly mentioned above, kundalini is the energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine. Once awakened through hatha yoga practices it will begin to rise. On its journey of ascension, which may take place over several lifetimes, many changes will take place as the rising kundalini energy unlocks the energy blocked within each chakra. You will become less reliant on the external, however you will begin to share an affinity with it. Your physical and mental pain and suffering will diminish as you realise that you are the one who brings it into your life and, ultimately, you will reach total enlightenment.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. There may be only aspects of this journey that you wish to take on board. You may not wish to be enlightened in the sense that you have to forgo pleasure in-order to be without pain. The smallest changes make a big difference. If you can be more compassionate towards yourself and others, in my humble opinion, you’re on the right path. I practice and teach hatha yoga not because I expect to reach enlightenment in this lifetime but because it helps me in the here and now. There are physical and emotional symptoms associated with blocked nadis and chakras and those are the things I use my practice to work through. Whatever else I achieve at this stage is a bonus!

In my next post I’ll start to go into detail about the individual chakras and the effect their imbalances can have physically and mentally. Thanks for reading folks. Namaste.

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