Most of us have a near-constant fixation on food, always searching for the magic diet that will help us lose some weight or gain some muscle. We pay attention to drinking; making sure to consume 8-10 glasses of water a day. However, we rarely focus on the breath as a means of achieving a higher level of vitality. In this post I will discuss the importance of breath, and a method for enhancing your mind/body connection through a simple breathing exercise.
Breath is the key to life
There are proven links between the breath and mental function
You can go for over a month without food without any major health problems. You can last for a few days without water, before severe dehydration sets in. However, you can only last for 10 minutes without breathing before creeping very close to death’s door. Breathing is not just critical for physical well-being, there are also proven links between the breath and proper mental function. Attend any (good) yoga class and you’ll realize how attention to the breath not only provides you with physical energy, it also produces a stabilizing and calming affect on the mind. Try standing in Dandayamana Dhanurasana for a minute without attention to the breath and you will see what I mean!
A great way to train the body to utilize the breath more effectively throughout your day, it to perform daily breathing exercises. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of performing these exercises, you will find your body naturally and subtly utilizing the breath more efficiently without any conscious action required.
A great technique that has been utilized by Yogis for thousands of years, is the Nadi Shodhana Pranayama technique. I learned this technique several years ago, and it has become a very powerful and stabilizing force in my life. I also practiced the technique extensively during my meditation and fasting retreat. I find that the higher level of stress you have in your life, the more impactful the effect of such breathwork.
Impact on the Subtle Body
When our Nadi’s are clean and open, the Prana can flow smoothly and we are energized and healthy. When our Nadi’s are clogged, we feel lethargic, and contract illness and disease.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is known as “the sweet breath,” and is a simple form of alternate nostril breathing. “Nadi” is a Sanskrit term and means “flow, motion or vibration.” “Shodhana” means “to cleanse or purify.” Pranayama means “expansion of Prana, or life force.” Nadi’s, according to ancient Indian writings, are channels that allow “Prana” to flow throughout the body to nourish every cell. Prana is a “life force” that is requisite for life. Think of the Nadis as our body’s irrigation system. When our Nadi’s are clean and open, the Prana can flow smoothly and we are energized and healthy. When our Nadi’s are clogged, we feel lethargic, and contract illness and disease.
These Nadi’s, of course, are not visible to the naked eye, or scientific instruments. They exist in the meta-physical realm. For Yogi’s, belief in this subtle (nonphysical) body is part and parcel to life. Proof is not necessary as the end-result is experienced. With first-hand experience of this truth, scientific proof is not needed. However, for many scientifically minded people, it can be natural to want proof before committing to such a belief. Thankfully, such proof does exist.
Scientists have discovered that this nasal function also corresponds with brain function.
According to Yogic teaching, alternative nostril breathing is derived from an awareness that the normal human breathing cycle alternates between the right and left nostrils every two hours. Scientists have discovered that this nasal function also corresponds with brain function. According to research, activity of the brain is found to be much greater in the side opposite the nostril with less congestion or blockage. These blockages impact the natural brain function.
Furthermore, form biology class, you may recall that the right side of the brain controls creative activity while the left side controls verbal and logical activity. Practice of Nadi Shodhana has been shown to regulate the activity across both sides of the brain, by imposing a regular sine wave over the normal irregular brain activity. Through an imposing of regularity on the brain and mental processes, a related effect is seen throughout other autonomous body functions as well. An end result of this practice is a “balance” across many body functions and emotions. Effects may include:
- Balance across tendencies towards introversion and extroversion
- Balance across the desire to act and actual action
- Balance across creative and logical thought patterns
- Increased feeling of peace and happiness
- Increased feeling of purpose
- Increased feeling of motivation
- Increased and more sustained levels of energy
Nadi Shodhana Technique
The good news is, the Nadi Shodhana technique is incredibly easy to learn and practice. It makes a great pre-cursor to a meditation practice, hatha yoga practice, or even sleep. Outlined below are some guidelines to follow. Start using the Nadi Shodhana Panayama technique, and bring balance and vitality back to your life.
- Blow out your nose, to clear any blockages.
- Find a comfortable seat. Preferably, cross-legged on the floor, though a chair will do if need be. Make sure you spine is completely erect.
- Keep you mouth closed, but make sure your jaw is relaxed.
- Close your eyes and gently gaze at a point in between your eyes. Do not stare, just gently gaze.
- Using your left hand, bring your middle and pointer finger together to a spot touching your forehead between your eyes.
- Close your LEFT nostril with your thumb.
- Exhale for 8 seconds from your RIGHT nostril.
- Inhale for 4 seconds from your RIGHT nostril.
- Hold your breath for 6 seconds
- Close your RIGHT nostril with your ring finger and exhale from your LEFT nostril for 8 seconds.
- Hold with your lungs empty for 2 seconds.
- Inhale from your LEFT nostril for 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath for 6 seconds.
- Close the LEFT nostril with the thumb and exhale from the RIGHT nostril for 8 seconds.
- Hold with your lungs empty for 2 seconds
- Inhale with the RIGHT nostril for 4 seconds…and so on….go back to step #5 and keep repeating the cycle for 2-3 minutes.
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