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Nadi Shodhana

Table of Contents

Nadi Shodhana is the first pranayama described in the classical yogic texts. Ideally, other classical pranayamas should be attempted only after practising nadi shodhana as instructed by the teacher for a specific period. The word nadi means ‘energy channel’ and shodhana means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to purify’. Therefore, nadi shodhana is a practice whereby the pranic channels are purified and regulated. This prepares one for the practice of other pranayamas, so that maximum benefits can be derived and one does not experience any pranic imbalance. Nadi shodhana is also a complete practice in itself and the higher stages achieve the ultimate aim of pranayama: kevala kumbhaka. Nadi shodhana is practised by alternating the inhalation and exhalation between the left and right nostrils, thus influencing the ida and pingala nadis and the two brain hemispheres. This leads to control of the oscillations of the body-mind network, bringing balance and harmony throughout the system. Nadi shodhana is truly a balancing pranayama, because whether the imbalance lies in the physical or mental body, this practice can restore equilibrium. Swami Satyananda has said, “If one wants to lead a spiritual life, this very pranayama is sufficient. It will steady the way to meditation and samadhi.”

Practice of nadi shodhana

Nadi shodhana is a complete practice in itself and, as stated in the scriptures, can lead to the experience of kevala kumbhaka and samadhi. However, the diligence of a sadhaka is required to arrive at this state. In texts such as Shiva Samhita, the various remarkable stages following the practice of nadi shodhana presume such a calibre of the aspirant. These scriptures were written by highly accomplished yogis, who actually described their advanced practices. Nevertheless, the practice of nadi shodhana will give substantial benefits to an average practitioner as well. As a daily practice, nadi shodhana may be used to vitalize the pranic energies, release pranic blockages and achieve a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, so that life’s situations can be handled better. As a therapeutic tool, it can be applied for almost all physical and mental disorders, although this must be done under expert guidance. For those who wish to use nadi shodhana as a spiritual practice, it may indeed awaken the dormant shakti and direct it through sushumna, the path of spiritual awakening, leading to deep states of meditation. The practice is presented here in three parts, beginning, intermediate and advanced. Proper advice should be obtained before commencing any of these levels. As with all techniques, each stage should be mastered before proceeding to the next, so that the duration of inhalation, exhalation and retention can be controlled without strain and without the need to take extra breaths in between rounds. One should not be alarmed by the long ratios of the advanced level.

They are difficult to master and are intended only for the serious sadhaka. The practitioner who becomes competent in all the stages of beginner and intermediate levels will gain the full benefit of the practice, physically, mentally and spiritually. Progress beyond this point is sadhana to be undertaken only under the strict guidance of a master [1].

General guidelines Posture:

One may assume postures such as sukhasana, ardha padmasana and vajrasana during the preliminary stages, but in the more advanced stages these postures will not lock the body and keep it steady. Therefore, it is better to choose one of the locked meditative postures such as siddhasana, siddha yoni asana, padmasana or swastikasana. Advanced stages of kumbhaka with ratio and bandhas should not be attempted unless one steady posture can be held comfortably throughout the practice. Any kind of tension will block the free flow of prana and distract the awareness. One should check the sitting position periodically to see that the back, neck and head remain straight, steady and still. There should be no shaking or nervous tremors in any part of the body.

Stages of practice

Four techniques are described here with progressive stages in each, which allow for a smooth development from beginning to advanced levels. However, this is intended to take place over a long period of time. Each stage should be practiced for at least two weeks before proceeding to the next. Mastery of some stages may take months, and there should not be any hurry. More benefit can be obtained by perfecting the details of breathing than by achieving advanced stages. Control of the respiratory system requires gradual development. Time is needed for the body and mind to adjust to the effect of extended breath and retention. Familiarity with the techniques of expanding the breathing capacity (see Chapter 16: ‘Preliminary Breathing Practices’) will enable one to practice each new stage of nadi shodhana through both nostrils, before proceeding to alternate nostril breathing. This type of breathing is recommended at the commencement of each stage. Even in daily sadhana, practicing through both nostrils to the appropriate ratio will help to create the breathing rhythm before the actual practice of nadi shodhana is commenced [1].

Techniques 1 and 2 prepare the lungs and the nervous system for techniques 3 and 4, which introduce antar and bahir kumbhaka (internal and external breath retention). The full benefits of this practice will be obtained by systematically perfecting each level, rather than by struggling prematurely with the advanced techniques. It is important to experience each stage fully and become established in that new pattern of breathing and its effects on the nervous system, energy levels, emotions, mental clarity and subtle aspects of the personality. Breath: Beginners should be familiar with abdominal breathing before taking up nadi shodhana. In nadi shodhana soundless breathing is practised to ensure that the breath is not forced or restricted in any way. As one progresses with the technique, the duration of inhalation, exhalation and retention should be extended within the limits of comfort. With the increase in ratio and duration, the breathing becomes very light and subtle. In the more developed stages, this gives a feeling as if the air is just floating in and out of the nostrils. Progress through the stages is easier if one develops the ability to relax with the breath. Increased ratios and length of breath should not be at the expense of relaxation, rhythm and awareness. The flow of breath must be smooth and without jerks throughout the practice [1].

Counting of rounds

One round of nadi shodhana comprises two complete breaths: breathing in through the left nostril, out through the right, in through the right nostril, and out through the left. As a stand ard procedure, each round starts from the left nostril. The number of rounds to be practised daily depends on the individual and the time available. For general purposes, five to ten rounds (10-15 minutes daily) is sufficient. The teacher will be able to give proper advice if one wishes to extend the practice further.

Bandhas

Jalandhara, uddiyana and moola bandhas are used during the intermediate and advanced stages of nadi shodhana. These bandhas are described in Appendix D and should be practised independently before attempting to include them in the practice itself.

Sequence

Nadi shodhana should be practised after shatkarma and asanas, and before other pranayamas. In order to remove nasal obstruction, if one of the nostrils is blocked, the practitioner should perform jala neti or breath-balancing exercises before commencing the practice. In the advanced stages, sometimes bhastrika pranayama is practised before nadi shodhana to facilitate longer retention. The best time to practise is around sunrise, although one may practise at any lime during the day, except after meals.

Hand position

Nasagra/Nasikagra Mudra (nosetip position) The following hand position is used during nadi shodhana pranayama to facilitate the smooth opening and closing of the nostrils required for alternate nostril breathing.

Raise the right hand in front of the face. Place the tips of the index and middle fingers gently on the eyebrow center. Both fingers should be relaxed. Hold the thumb just above the right nostril and the ring finger just above the left. These two fingers control the flow of breath in the nostrils by alternately pressing one nostril, blocking the flow of breath, then releasing and pressing the other. The little finger is placed beside the ring finger. When practicing for long periods, the right elbow may be supported in the palm of the left hand, although care is needed to keep the head, neck and back straight in order to prevent chest restriction. Practice note: While blocking a nostril, the finger is placed gently on the outside of the nostril or underneath the opening of the nostril. The side of the nose should not be forced into the septum, because the pressure on the nerves inside the nostrils may compete with the effect that the flow of air is meant to have on the nerves in the opposite nostril [3].

Beginner’s level practice

The following two techniques of nadi shodhana may be practised by everyon e and are used to maintain the balance of body and mind in daily life as well as in therapeutic situations.

Technique I:

preparatory practice Stage I: Sit in any comfortable meditation posture, preferably siddhasana, siddha yoni asana or padmasana. Keep the head and spine upright. Relax the whole body and close the eyes. Practise yogic breathing for some time. Adopt nasagra mudra with the right hand and place the left hand on the knee in chin or jnana mudra. Close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril 5 times, keeping the respiration rate normal. Be aware of each breath. After completing 5 breaths release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril and press the left nostril with the ring finger, blocking the flow of air. Inhale and exhale through the right nostril 5 times, keeping the respiration rate normal. Lower the hand and breathe through both nostrils together 5 times, keeping the respiration rate normal. This is one round. Practise 5 rounds. The breathing should be silent. Practise this stage until it is mastered, before commencing the next stage.

Stage 2: Begin to control the duration of each breath. Breathe deeply without strain. Count the length of the inhalation and exhalation through the left, right and both nostrils. While inhaling, count mentally, “1, Om; 2, Om; 3, Om”, until the inhalation ends comfortably. While exhaling, count, “1, Om; 2, Om; 3, Om”. Inhalation and exhalation should be equal. Practise 5 rounds. The breathing should be silent. Practice note: The length of the breath will spontaneously increase after some days of practice. When the count reaches 10 without any strain, go on to technique 2. Contra-indications: One should not practise while suffering from colds, flu or fever. Benefits: Increases awareness of and sensitivity to the breath in the nostrils. Minor blockages are removed and the flow of breath in both nostrils becomes more balanced, activating both brain hemispheres. The long, slow, balanced breathing of stage 2 has profound effects, calming and balancing the energies.

Technique II:

with alternate nostril breathing In this technique the basic pattern of alternate nostril breathing is established. Stage I: Begin with equal inhalation and exhalation, using the ratio 1:1. Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril. At the same time count mentally, “1, Om; 2, Om; 3, Om”, until the inhalation ends comfortably. This is the basic count. Breathe deeply without strain. Close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril. While exhaling through the right nostril, simultaneously count, “1, Om; 2, Om; 3, Om”. The length of inhalation and exhalation should be equal.

Next, inhale through the right nostril, keeping the same count in the same manner. At the end of inhalation, close the right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril, counting as before. This is one round. Practise 5-10 rounds. Practice note: After one week, if there is no difficulty, increase the length of inhalation/exhalation by one count. Continue to increase the count in this way until the count of 10:10 is reached. Do not force the breath in any way. Be careful not to speed up the counting during exhalation to compensate for shortage of breath. Reduce the count at the slightest sign of discomfort.

Stage 2: After perfecting the above, the 1:1 ratio may be changed to 1:2. Initially, halve the length of the inhalation. Inhale for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 10. Repeat on the other side. This is one round. Practise 5-10 rounds. Practice note: During the ensuing practice, continue extending the breath by adding one count to the inhalation and two to the exhalation, up to the count of 10:20. The extension of count should be built up slowly. Contra-indications: Stage 2 of technique 2 begins the process of introversion, which is not recommended for a depressed or withdrawn person. The extension of stage 2, involving longer counts, is not recommended for people with heart problems. Benefits: Technique 2 gives more pronounced balancing of the breath and the brain hemispheres. It is calming, relieves anxiety, improves concentration and stimulates ajna chakra. The ratio 1:1 in stage 1 establishes a calming rhythm for the brain and heart, assisting people with cardiovascular and nervous disorders specifically, and stress-related conditions generally.

Intermediate level

At this stage, internal kumbhaka is introduced. Kumbhaka is the aim of pranayama, as it activates the spiritual energy. Mastery of each stage requires conditioning the body and mind to longer periods of retention over a period of time. The brain becomes trained not to signal for inhalation or exhalation during slight rises in levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Bandhas are also introduced, which lock the shakti or energy internally, preventing it from being dissipated in the body and mind, and directing it into the sushumna passage.

Technique 3: with antar kumbhaka (inner retention) In this technique antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention is introduced. The inhalation and exhalation should be silent, smooth and controlled. Stage I: Begin breathing with equal inhalation, inner retention and exhalation. Close the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left nostril for a count of 5. At the end of inhalation, close both nostrils and retain the air in the lungs for a count of 5. Open the right nostril and exhale for a count of 5. At the end of exhalation, inhale through the right nostril for a count of 5, keeping the left nostril closed. Again, retain the breath for a count of 5 with both nostrils closed. Open the left nostril and exhale for a count of 5. This is one round using the ratio 5:5:5.

Maintain constant awareness of the count and of the breath. Practise 5-10 rounds. Practice note: When the ratio of 5:5:5 is comfortable, the count can be lengthened. Gradually increase the count by adding 1 unit to the inhalation, 1 unit to the retention and 1 unit to the exhalation. The count of one round will then be 6:6:6. When this has been perfected and there is no discomfort, increase the count to 7:7:7. Continue in this way until the count of 10:10:10 is reached. Do not force the breath. At the slightest sign of strain reduce the count. Stage 2: After perfecting the ratio of 1:1:1, change to the ratio 1:1:2. Initially use a shorter count. Inhale for a count of 5, perform internal kumbhaka for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 10. Practice note: After mastering the count of 5:5:10, gradually increase the count by adding 1 unit to the inhalation, 1 unit to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation. The count of one round will then be 6:6:12. When this has been perfected and there is no discomfort, increase the count to 7:7:14. Gradually increase the count over several months of practice until the count of 10:10:20 is reached. Stage 3: Change to the ratio 1:2:2. Inhale for a count of 5, hold the breath inside for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 10. Practise until the ratio and count are comfortable and there is no tendency to speed up the count during retention or exhalation due to shortness of breath. Practice note: When this has been perfected, the count can be gradually increased by adding 1 unit to the inhalation, 2 units to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation. The count of one round will then be 6:12:12. In this manner, gradually increase the count to 10:20:20. Stage 4: Change to the ratio 1:3:2. Reduce the count of inhalation to 5. Hold the breath inside for a count of 15, and exhale for a count of 10.

Practise until the ratio is comfortable and there is no tendency to speed up the count during retention or exhalation due to shortness of breath. Practice note: When this has been perfected and there is no discomfort, the count can be gradually increased by adding 1 unit to the inhalation, 3 units to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation. The count of one round will then be 6:18:12. In this manner, gradually increase the count to 10:30:20. Stage 5: Change to the ratio of 1:4:2. Begin with the count of 5:20:10. Once this count has been established, it can be gradually increased. Practice note: Add 1 unit to the inhalation, 4 units to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation. The count of one round will then be 6:24:12. In this manner, gradually increase the count to 10:40:20. Contra-indications: Technique 3 is not suitable for women in the later half of pregnancy. It is not recommended for persons with heart problems, high blood pressure, emphysema or any major disorders. From stage 2 onward it is not recommended for asthmatics. Benefits: The inner retention of breath, which characterizes technique 3, activates various brain centres and harmonizes the pranas. The benefits increase with the progression of the ratios. The ratio 1:4:2 is most widely recommended in the yogic texts. It gives profound psychological and pranic effects and is used as a preparation for kundalini awakening [1].

For Advance practices, Please refer to Prana and Pranayama by Swami S. Nirajanananda [3]. 

Physiology of nadi shodhana

Nadi shodhana pranayama affects brain hemispherity by alternately stimulating the right brain and then the left brain. The flow of breath through the nostrils stimulates the opposite side of the brain, via nerve endings just beneath the mucous layer inside the nostrils. Each side of the body is governed by nerves originating in the opposite side of the brain. The stimulation of the nostrils by the flow of breath increases nervous activity in the brain on the opposite side of each nostril. The autonomic nervous system is also stimulated and relaxed by this practice. The sympathetic nervous system is stimulated by increasing the flow of breath in the right nostril. This increases the heart rate, produces more sweaty palms, dilates the pupils and opens up the lungs – all part of the fight or flight reaction. By increasing the flow of breath through the left nostril, the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated. This lowers the heart rate, relaxes the body and improves digestion. The practice of nadi shodhana also brings about ionic field homogenization. The ida nadi is a storehouse of negative ions and the pingala nadi of positive ions. During the practice of nadi shodhana, as one inhales through the left nostril the negative ion concentration in ida nadi quickly increases from its rest or basal concentration. It then reaches a maximum and begins to fall off gradually, because the concentration of ions is greater in the regions of low pranic density (e.g. there is a high ionic concentration in the region of prana, udana, samana and a low concentration in apana and vyana.) The ionic concentration is thus not homogeneous yet. When the breath is held, the concentration of ions becomes equal in all parts of ida nadi. At the chakras where ida and pingala are in the closest proximity, the negative ions from ida migrate towards pingala attracted by its positive ions, and many are annihilated as they merge. This has the effect of depleting the number of ions in both ida and pingala, but more so in pingala, because of the high concentration of negative ions in ida. This also causes energy to be liberated in various forms such as heat, light and pranic energy, which has to be absorbed, transformed or removed in part. During exhalation through the right nostril, the heat component of the energy produced by the above ionic annihilation process is liberated. Pingala nadi has a very small concentration of positive ions and is thus prepared to receive the influx of positive ions in the next part of the round. During external retention, the ionic concentrations in both ida and pingala are homogenized and a state of equilibrium is reached. Inhalation through the right nostril increases the positive ion concentration in pingala. It rises quickly to a maximum level and then decreases slowly just as in the case of ida. During retention, the ion concentration in pingala is homogenized, and ion migration to ida (and annihilation) takes place. So, the process of nadi shodhana produces a kind of ionic seesaw.

Benefits of nadi shodhana

Nadi shodhana is a panacea for all imbalances. When the balance in the autonomic nervous system is restored, the root causes of many diseases are tackled and over a period of time removed. Regular practice of nadi shodhana also helps to maintain the pineal gland, thereby influencing the pituitary gland and the flow of hormones into the blood. Nadi shodhana activates the frontal brain and ajna chakra, thereby inducing tranquillity, clarity of thought and concentration. It also helps to remove depressive tendencies and vertigo. It purifies and regulates the entire pranic system, the nadis and chakras. As prana flows freely through every system, the vitality improves at all levels. At the spiritual level, the practice of nadi shodhana prepares one to enter higher meditative states.


References:

 

[1].Swami S. Nirajanananda, Prana and Pranayama .

[2]. G. C. Pande, Foundations of Indian Culture: Spiritual Vision and Symbolic Forms in Ancient India. Second edition published by Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1990, p. 97.

[3].Iyengar, B. K. S. (2011). Light on prāṇāyāma : the yogic art of breathing. New York: Crossroad. OCLC 809217248.

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