The first and last things we do in this physical lifetime are to take a breath. Along with oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, the breath contains prana, the life force energy. We are regularly taught we can’t live without oxygen; it is also true we can’t live without prana, the vital force that energizes the mind, body, and consciousness.
Breath Principles to Remember
Your rate of breathing and your state of mind are inseparable.
The slower your rate of breathing, the more control you have over your mind.
The mind follows the breath, and the body follows the mind.
The breath is a fundamental tool for the yoga practitioner. The average rate of breathing for most people is about sixteen times per minute. When the rate of breathing increases, or if it becomes rapid and irregular, the mind also becomes disturbed and erratic.
Breath and Mind Connection
Why or how does the breath control the mind? When your mind is calm, meditative, and under your control, your rate of breathing will be slow, steady, and calm. By breathing slowly and steadily you will calm your mind. As you change your rate of breathing, you change your state of mind.
Of all the positive changes a person can make, learning to breath deeply and completely is probably the most effective tool for developing higher consciousness and for increasing health, vitality, and connectedness in one’s life.
Through the simple mechanism of closing or opening one of the nostrils, the yogi has a wide array of techniques to control his moods and energies.
The quality or Prana processed through the two nostrils differs corresponding with the qualities associated with the two sides of the brain. The nerves going out from the two brain hemispheres cross at the level of the eyebrows. The left hemisphere is connected to the right side of the body and right nostril; the right hemisphere to the left side of the body and left nostril.
We breathe predominantly through one nostril or the other at any given time. The dominant nostril alternates rhythmically every 90 to 150 minutes. The length of the cycle reflects universal rhythms, individual temperament, and the personal state of mental and physical balance. The rhythm itself is mediated mainly through structures in the hypothalamus and pituitary, though other areas in the brain are also involved.
You may use the technique of inhaling and exhaling exclusively through either the left or right nostril in order to benefit from the quality associated with that nostril. For instance, breathe exclusively through the left nostril to deal with compulsive eating habits.
Breathing through the left nostril is associated with:
Ida, the nadi which ends at the left nostril
Apana, the cleansing energy
The Moon energy—cooling, receptive
Breathing through the right nostril is associated with:
Pingala, the nadi ending at the right nostril
Prana, the nurturing energy
The Sun energy—warming, projective
Readiness for action
Meditation of the Month: Basic Breath Series
This set opens the pranic channels and balances the breath in the two sides of your body. It is often practiced before a more strenuous, physical kriya. It is great to do by itself whenever you need a quick lift and a clear mind.
1) Sit cross-legged in Easy Pose. Make an antenna of the right-hand fingers and block the right nostril with the thumb. Begin Long Deep Breathing through the left nostril for 3 minutes. Inhale—hold for 10 seconds.
2) Repeat exercise 1, but use the left hand and breathe through the right nostril. Continue for 3 minutes. Inhale—hold for 10 seconds.
3) Use the forefinger and little finger to close alternate nostrils. Inhale through the left nostril, and exhale through the right nostril using long deep breaths for
1 - 3 minutes.
4) Repeat exercise 3, except inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril for 1 - 3 minutes.
5) Sit in Easy Pose with hands in Gyan Mudra (index fingers touching thumb tips, palms facing up). Begin Breath of Fire. Bring your focus to the brow point. Continue with a regular powerful breath for 3 - 7 minutes. Then inhale and hold, circulating the energy. (Breath of fire is continuous rapid breathing, 2 to 3 breaths per second, gently pulling the navel point in on the exhale and allowing it to expand out on the inhale.)
6) Relax or meditate for 5 minutes
7) Chant long Sat Nam for 3 – 5 minutes. Sa -a -a -a -a -a -at Nam