The Spring Equinox marks the shift in the season. In the Northern Hemisphere it represents new light, life and beginnings and marks a point on the calendar when day and night are in perfect balance. Throughout the world, at approximately 4:24 p.m. Central Daylight Time, on March 20th, 2023 both hemispheres of the earth receive the light of the sun equally. What a wonderful time to focus on balance as we align ourselves energetically with the budding energy of spring and come out from under the fog of winter! Prepare the mind and body with nadi shodhana pranayama (translated as “subtle energy clearing breathing technique"). This cleansing breath, also called “alternate nostril breathing,” involves inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time. In addition to opening the flow of energy along the nadis (the energy channels within us), this practice calms, purifies, and strengthens the nervous system and deepens self-awareness. It is excellent preparation for both yoga and meditation.
What is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama?
The Nadis govern our inner energy. They are like passageways that branch and intersect like the streets and highways through a city. Among this multitude of nadis, three main ones govern the body/mind’s overall functioning and determine the general tone of the entire system. These primary channels lie along our spinal column—two twining upward on either side and ending in the nostrils, and the third rising directly through the center of the spinal column to the base of the nose. Ida, as it is known, ends in the left nostril, pingala terminates in the right, and sushumna is the central channel ending at the base of the nose between the two nostrils.
Yogic literature describes the Nadis, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama and the differences in the energy of the two nostrils beautifully. Texts say that the current of energy ending in the left nostril is cooling, like the moon; it is associated with the cognitive senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing), with the latent power of consciousness, and with refueling and replenishment. Feminine in character, it denotes inward, nurturing energy. When overly dominant, however, ida energy may lead to chilliness, passivity, lack of assertiveness, and depression. Conversely, pingala energy is warming like the sun. Associated with the active senses (motion, manipulation, communication, elimination, reproduction), with the dynamic aspect of consciousness, and with growth and expansion, this masculine energy denotes outward-moving forces. When it is overly dominant, right nostril energy may lead to fever, agitation, over assertiveness, and lack of concentration. Sun and moon, male and female, active and receptive, rational and intuitive, contracting and relaxing, unbending and fluid—these and other pairs of opposites comprise the archetypes that best describe the relationship between the two channels of breath.
Yoga texts have observed that the flow of energy through ida and pingala is rarely equal, and that this can be noted in the nostrils. If you check your breathing right now, you will probably find that one nostril is more open than the other. Like a swinging pendulum throughout your day, your breath and the energies associated with the two nostrils alternate. But during moments of transition, the two become equal. This brief interlude leads to su-shumna breathing, the experience of the two streams of breath united in a single flow through the central channel. It provides us with a glimpse of equilibrium before the energies tumble back into action. When either ida or pingala reigns, we engage with the world, but during the short periods when they flow equally, sushumna draws awareness inward. Like the eye of a hurricane, sushumna—the channel of energy flowing along the core of the spine—is unaffected by the powerful energies of ida and pingala swirling around it. During meditation attention is anchored in sushumna, the mind can rest from its outer activity and is naturally drawn inward towards the central channel. Here, a deep joy illuminates the mind, a joy that is completely independent of worldly affairs...successes or failures.
Following meditation practice, when the attention turns outward again, an active interest in worldly affairs is restored, but often with more enthusiasm than before. The meditative experience continues to create a subtle mood of happiness and contentment as it continually beautifies our internal dialogue. Much like the memory of having witnessed a beautiful sunrise or sunset, meditation infuses our consciousness with reassurance, optimism, and good cheer.
Nadi Shodhana Practice
Take a comfortable and tall seat, making sure your spine is straight and your heart is open.
Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. The fingers we’ll be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
Inhale through the right side slowly.
Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.
Steps 5-9 represent one complete cycle of alternate nostril breathing. If you’re moving through the sequence slowly, one cycle could take you anywhere from 20-40 seconds. Move through 5-10 cycles when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or in need of a reset button.
Tips: Match the length of your inhales, pauses, and exhales. For example, you can start to inhale for a count of five, hold for five, exhale for five, hold for five. You can slowly increase your count as you refine your practice.
Continue for up to 5 minutes.
Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.