By Dr. Rita Khanna
According to Yogic physiology and philosophy, three main Nadis exist within the frame of the spinal column – Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. Ida and Pingala are responsible for the two sides of human nature coexisting within every individual. Ida is the introverted, mental side of our personality and represents the lunar, subjective and receptive aspect of our being. When the flow of Prana in Ida Nadi is predominant, mentality predominates over vitality and the Jnanendriyas (organs of outer knowledge or sensory input, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) are activated. Pingala Nadi corresponds to the extroverted, expressive side of the personality and represents our solar, dynamic and objective aspect. When the Prana flows predominantly in Pingala Nadi, vitality predominates over mentality and the Karmendriyas (motor organs or organs of action, the hands, feet, sexual organs, anus and vocal cords) are activated. Symbolically, Ida can be understood as the receptive, feminine side of our being and Pingala as its masculine, expressive counterpart.
Balance Between These Two Nadis
Swara Yoga concerns the realisation of man’s essential nature as the balance between these dual and complementary polarities. According to Swara Yoga, the flow of Prana in Ida Nadi is equilibrated with the flow of breath in the left nostril and the flow of Prana in Pingala Nadi is similarly related to the breath in the right nostril. The third Nadi is Sushumna and Prana is induced to flow in this Nadi only when Ida and Pingala, the mental and vital sides of the personality, are functioning in perfect balance. This can only occur when an equal volume of breath is moving in and out of each nostril. At that time, the awareness is neither introverted nor extroverted but remains balanced between the two. This is when Sushumna Nadi flows and the state of Meditation (Dhyana) dawns effortlessly. While there is inequality of the flow of breath in the nostrils, Meditation will not supervene, and this is the case in our daily lives.
The Cyclic Breath
In Swara Yoga, breath alternates cyclically from one nostril to the other approximately every 90 minutes and this can be readily verified by personal observation. There is a period of 3 or 4 minutes in each 90 minute cycle when the breath crosses over from one side to the other. In this short period, both nostrils flow equally, and this is the period traditionally advocated for successful spontaneous Meditation. Many of the practices of Swara Yoga, including Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, Jala and Sutra Neti and use of the Yoga Danda, directly influence the balance of breath in each nostril, inducing Sushumna Nadi to flow and Meditation to supervene.
Two Hemispheres of the Brain
The dual nature of the human psycho physiological framework is reflected in the very physical structure of man’s brain and central nervous system. Neurophysiological and psychological research studies have been able to demonstrate clearly that the two hemispheres of the brain are actually responsible for different abilities and characteristic modes of expression of human individuality. The right hemisphere has been found to assume responsibility for the holistic, intutional and psychic side of our perception which are Ida Nadi functions, while the left hemisphere has been found responsible for our logical, rational and analytic faculties and sequential and linear modes of thought – all Pingala Nadi functions. Further, the left sensory and motor cortex regions of the brain are known to be responsible for the movement and sensation of the right side of the body, while the right cortex assumes responsibility for the left side of the body. This reciprocal innervation occurs via the ascending sensory and descending motor nerve tracts, which cross over to the right side of the midline within the brain stem and spinal cord. In terms of Swara Yoga, therefore, the right side of the brain is activated when the left nostril is flowing; the left brain is activated when the right nostril flows, and whenever both nostrils flow equally, every faculty of the human brain is functioning in an optimal and integrated manner as Sushumna Nadi awakens. Then Meditation is directly experienced.
The Effects of Yogic Breathing
During inhalation, the flow of air in each nostril stimulates specific unilateral autonomic nerve centres lying within and beneath the mucus membranes. These specific stimuli subsequently influence the autonomic processes of respiration, circulation, digestion and so on. We can anticipate the far reaching effects of Yogic practices such as Neti Kriya and Nadi Shodhana Pranayama upon the whole autonomic nervous system and thence the endocrine and physiological functions.
The Yoga Danda
The Yoga Danda or rod, which is traditionally used by Yogis to manipulate the flow of the breath in the nostrils, is fashioned of suitable length to pass from the ground to the armpit of the meditating individual. The ancient Yogis found that by leaning slightly upon this rod and applying sustained pressure in one armpit the flow of breath in the opposite nostril is enhanced. They utilised this principle during Meditation practices to maintain balance between the two nostrils, equilibrating the flows of Ida and Pingala Nadis, so that Sushumna Nadi might remain open and successful Meditation continue.
For the average person, the whole brain functions optimally only for the few moments when Sushumna awakens every 1½ hours of the automatic breathing cycle. Proper use of the Yoga Danda, however, induces a continuing balance of both nostrils, enabling the Yogis who follow the paths of Tantra and Swara Yoga to maintain the flow of Sushumna Nadi and thereby experience meditative awareness for hours or days continually.
Reversing the Cycle
Naturually the flow of Prana in Pingala Nadi predominates during the day, while Ida predominates at night. But those who purify the network of Nadis through Yoga induce Ida to flow during the day and Pingala at night.
However, the natural cyclical rhythm cannot be easily broken. The five Tattwas (elements) have to be first realised, and then purified. In Kundalini Yoga, each element is associated with a Chakra or psychic centre, and these centres must be awakened.
Significance of the Science of an Active Life Today
Firstly, Swara Yoga is a direct way of learning more about ourselves. Everyone can become aware of the state of his breath in relation to his various daily activities, states of mind and feelings, no matter how busy he is. In Swara Yoga, this sadhana alone can lead directly to sushumna awakening and entry into dhyana.
Secondly, the health and optimal function of the body and mind is enhanced via the powerful autonomic nervous influence of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama and Neti Kriya. These practices release daily accumulated psychic and nervous stress, which imbalances the autonomic nervous system and blocks Pranic energy flow, locking it within fixed configurations and circuits. Over long periods of time, these Pranic abnormalities and disturbances, if remaining unreleased, result in the whole gamut of psychosomatic and stress-related diseases which we as individuals and communities are confronted with today.
Swara Yoga is one of the most effective way to develop continuity of consciousness in both the gross and subtle planes and to acquire homogeneous awareness throughout the waking, sleeping and dreaming states. It is a path which leads to Dhyana in the midst of an active life in this world.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by worl