Nadi Shodhana, the Master Breath
There are a few yogic techniques out there able to make a visible impact on the quality of our lives, but none of them are as powerful, easy to practice, and overall pleasant as Nadi Shodhana.
A well known method for the purification of the subtle channels in our bodies (or nadis), Nadi Shodhana Pranayama has the potential to help every single one of us reach a clearer and much calmer state of mind right here, right now. Only once the mind has been freed from its erratic and circular nature can pure and unconditioned perception arise.
Indeed, thought often wrongly translated as 'control of breath,' pranayama (or yogic breathing) is made of the root for 'Pran' (life-force) and 'Ayama' (extension, expansion); which explains why so many different scriptures place so much importance on pranayama or the science of expanding and extending the reservoir of life-force within us. We practice pranayama not just to learn to pay attention how we breathe (that is, to how often, how deeply or how shallowly we breathe), but mainly to understand and enhance pranic energy in the different layers or sheaths of our body.
As the Hatha Yoga Pradipika notes, our breath is (alongside food, water, exposure to sun, and other methods) one of the best ways to capture or absorb prana into the body. And what do we need so much prana for? In a nutshell, to be able to see to the well-being of all the facets or dimensions of our lives (the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions) with the adequate energy level and vibe.
Our Breath and the Mind
Research shows that our breath has the ability to impact our nervous system and, in so doing, alter the nature of our mind. Indeed, breath and mind seem to be intricately woven; so much so that when we work on the one we affect the other. For most of us, working at the level of the mind from the get-go can be somewhat tricky ––a feat best left to those skillful enough and versed on the path of Raja Yoga. And this is one of the reasons why breathing techniques are so ubiquitous in Tantric Hatha Yoga.
By focusing our attention on the breath, we unconsciously manage to switch between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and, in so doing, prepare our bodyminds for different types of more relaxing or energizing practices, for more calming or exciting experiences.
Still, not only is our mind impacted by the breath proper; it is also impacted by its lack thereof. Which means that in Pranayama, the absence of breath is actually of more importance than its presence. Indeed, when we stop or halt our breath, a similar pause signal is sent to our mind, one that creates a much needed break from the otherwise incessant flow of thoughts and images in our heads. And so, different pranayama techniques ––Nadi Shodhana included–– aim at lengthening our ability to suspend or hold our breath in an attempt at extending the duration of those periods where no mental agitation takes place, where no signals are sent to our nervous system. For it is in these interim moments where the mind is under control and we abide in pure being that prana is better absorbed; and so, that we land in a space where the deeper facets of our personality and behavior can be unlocked, worked on, and ultimately transformed.
Nadi Shodhana is often recommended as one of the most accessible and beneficial breathing methods for experienced and inexperienced yogis alike regardless of the style of Yoga we practice. Though it may be practiced in any position we may find comfortable, a seated pose with a straight back is often recommended. The technique is as simple as it is effective, requiring an awareness of four basic steps:
Step One: Utilizing the ring finger and thumb of our right hand to block and release the flow of breath from our left and right nostrils respectively. Our ring finger will block/release the left nostril, our thumb will do the same with our right one.
Step Two: Inhaling and exhaling in equal ratios (four seconds in, four seconds out; six seconds in, six seconds out), regardless of the rhythm we find most comfortable. For example, if we inhale for six seconds on our left nostril, we'll exhale for six seconds through the right one.
Step Three: Holding our breath between inhalation and exhalation for an equal amount of time (as in, eight seconds in, eight seconds hold, eight seconds out).
Step Four: Starting and ending the practice of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama through the left nostril. That is, we'll begin by inhaling deeply and calmly through our left nostril, holding our breath for the same amount of time, exhaling deeply and calmly through our right nostril, and then reverse the entire process by inhaling through the right nostril, holding the breath, and exhaling through the left nostril. That will constitute one round. Our practice will thus begin and end on the left nostril, in alternating rounds of inhale and exhale.
If any of this sounds complicated, trust us: it isn't. But just in case it gets messy at the beginning, this here is a good video to listen to as a means to support our practice for the first time. Ideally, however, we'll practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama on our own, in complete silence, allowing everything around us and within us to fall off. We want to feel and flow with the relaxing ebb of our inhalations and exhalations, as well as with the pauses and moments of absence between in them.
If you give this technique a chance, we promise you'll feel the difference not just right away by ending visibly more relaxed and calm, but also at the level of your health. Because Nadi Shodhana effectively increases the flow of oxygen to your cells, improves circulation, helps alleviate the pressure of stress and anxiety, and acts as an overall tonic over the entirety of our respiratory system and our mind.