I came across this amazing image the other day. For a bigger view and more in this incredible series click here. It is an ad for Mercedez Benz (how totally random!), but what really struck me was how clearly it depicted the science of tantra, or swara yoga. More specifically this beautiful image shows how each nostril is connected to very specific types of energy, and how this energy connects to a certain hemisphere of the brain. I discuss this all the time in class, so if you have received this little teaching from me, here is a wonderful little diagram to explain it all!
Yogis believe that each nostril is connected to a Nadi, which in Sanskrit literally translates to the word river, or flow. These channels are not nerves as we may imagine them in a gross sense, but far more subtle conduits of pranic energy that intersect at the chakras which lie along the length of the spine. Each nostril corresponds to a dominant activity that takes place in the opposite hemisphere of the brain. The right brain-left brain theory grew out of the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. What fascinates me, is that this very concept was first explained in ancient texts such as the Upanishads, ancient texts composed thousands of years ago, which set the foundations of the basis of our understanding of yoga today. Here we have yet another scientific finding, bought to our attention by Western scientists in the 21st century that the yogis knew about though direct experience and practice of breathing and meditation techniques, centuries before. This is the beauty of the art and science of yoga.
Left Nostril : Ida Nadi, Left side of the body, Right Brain dominance, the feminine and creative principle.
The breath that is drawn in through the left nostril is known as Ida, the lunar channel. It runs energetically down the left side of the spinal cord, and impacts the right hemisphere of the brain. It is symbolically represented by the moon, and by the feminine aspect of energy known as Shakti. Left nostril dominant breathing activates the Parasympathetic nervous system, the state that you enter during a great relaxing savasana or restorative portion of your yoga practice, or any activites where you find yourself in an effortless state of creative flow.
Here is the text on the right hemisphere of the brain from the advertisement above:
I am the right brain. I am creativity, a free spirit. I am passion. Yearning, sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste, the feeling of sand beneath bare feet. I am movement. I am vivid colour, the urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art, poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I wanted to be.
Right Nostril: Pingala Nadi, Right side of the body, Left Brain dominance, the masculine and analytical principle.
The right nostril breath is known as Pingala, and is the solar channel. Not surprisingly this breath is heating in nature, and is associated with masculine energy through the archetype of Shiva. When we draw breath in the through the right nostril, or more accurately when the breath is dominant through this channel it activates our left hemisphere of our brain. This is the part of our brain which is associated with our Sympathetic Nervous System – that elevated state of stress, or the ‘fight or flight response’ – a throwback from our primitive ancestors as a way of keeping us alive, and out of immediate danger. The left hemisphere of the brain is more analytical in nature.
Here is the text on the left brain from the picture above:
I am the left brain. I am a scientist, a mathematician. I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate, linear, analytical. Strategic, practical, I am always in control. A master of words and language. Realistic, I calculate equations and play with numbers. Order, logic. I know exactly who I am.
As you can well imagine, we have an incredible opportunity to develop an awareness of this in our yoga practice. One of the most simple ways to start to become accustomed to this is to close one nostril, and check to see which one is dominant at varying times of the day. When we are involved in activities such as art, dancing, and relaxation, it is almost certain that our left nostril is drawing in more oxygen than our right, thus activating our right hemisphere of our brain. When we are crunching numbers, making strategic business decisions, or in times of elevated stress, our right nostrils will be dominant, thus activating our left hemisphere of our brains. The yogis observed that the dominance of each nostril fluctuates often during the day according to the activities that we are undertaking. Too much prana in the right nostril, may well be responsible for a noticeable decline in your creativity, and too much prana in the left nostril, may be the cause of a lack of concentration for more analytical tasks.
Nadi Shodhana PranayamTry it! I received this teaching many, many years ago and it is a practical tool that I use many times a day to see where my energy is concentrated, and what sorts of tasks best fit my most current mood. In classes over the next few weeks I will be continuing to teach Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, an alternate nostril breathing technique which balances the energy in the body to achieve a greater sense of equanimity and harmony. I would love to hear your questions, comments and experience with this. Come and find me after class, or around 889 to chat!