The most straight forward way to develop energetic balance and spiritual awareness is by our most essential energy. That energy is most easily regulated by the breath and it’s balance in the left and right sides of the body. You may have often heard the differences described of the two hemispheres of the brain, or considered what it might mean being left or right handed, extroverted or introverted. The qualities of energy in each side of the physio-logical action of breathing are unique and influence our attitudes and behaviors. We can also work backwards from behaviors that influence which side of the breath is predominant. For a little background info look up Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna nadis here.
Before we continue I think I should state that the following practices in today’s post are more effective when we utilize an expanded area on the interior surface of the lungs. This is done by a healthy and vigorous asana practice, deep breathing in forward folds, backbends, twists, and finally side bends as these asana lead to an understanding of side breathing and breath balance.
The body has internal pressures from how we “hold” ourselves. By the actions of the abdominal sheath, diaphragm, spinal extension, and intercostal muscles we develop a unique pattern of muscular activity that creates a “breath map” of how much and where our lungs can expand and contract. Many of these “breath maps” are habitual, working from influences in biochemical rhythms, mental activity, and even conscious intention. This causes the breath to work in cycles of left and right dominance. At times the breath may also be experienced as equally open in both sides. This is the ideal condition for evolution of awareness and accessing Sushumna nadi, if you believe in that kind of stuff. And if you don’t, it feels… awesome, so please, try this out.
Watch your breathing for the next few days. Notice when there is breath dominance and when it is equal on both sides. Note how you “hold” your body and observe your emotional states for the differences in experience. When the breath is equal on both sides you might feel inwardly receptive and ready to receive life’s lessons, but also, an excitement is there right under the surface, ready to spark spontaneously with the world and the people in it. It’s like feeling energized with gratitude for everyone and everything + breath and peace right? 😀
If you’ve witnessed breath is mostly on one side more than the other, consider how it relates to your temperament. Have you or can you see yourself described as introvert or extrovert? By conscious effort and special practices you can move towards balance. If you feel introverted work on right side breathing. If you feel extroverted, work on left. To develop balanced breathing its important to understand these two aspects of yourself relative to the other.
As I stated before, side bending can help bring balance to breathing. It does this by giving practice stretching and relaxing the intercostal muscles of the ribcage. Stretching is the best way to find tough spots, where muscles may be holding tension. Side stretching is also one of the best ways to develop lung capacity and to vitalize and exfoliate deeper tissue. Some of the best poses for this are…
Another technique for working with breath flow i.e., Ida and Pingala nadis, is by use of the yoga danda. The body has a natural reaction when it feels breath may be hindered on one side of the body. By placing the Yoga Danda under the armpit, breath will begin to open more on the other side. You can usually feel the same thing when you lay down on one side long enough, a trick I learned as a child with frequent sinus congestion. Cool, right? So the ancient Yogi’s used this stick in meditation and pranayama practices to explore and balance the energies of breathing. Asana will also achieve this result to an extent but I wouldn’t try doing long meditation or pranayama in the pose below, Yoga Dandasana.
Here’s a way to classify these two main energies… Left side(Ida) is internalized mental energies. Right side(Pingala) is dynamic, catalyzing energies. And balanced(Sushumna) is spiritual energy and harmony awareness.
The resonance of balanced Ida-Pingala in the body-mind complex creates a higher vibrational frequency. The result is often portrayed as the ascent of Kundalini energy rising up the central channel, Sushumna. To me, this phenomenon is a natural part of who we are, but exists in a dimension beyond our normal senses. To develop the balance to feel and develop Sushumna, there is also the alternate nostril breathing practice, called Nadi Shodhana. In the most basic version one simply breathes in through one side, out through the other, and then repeats starting from the opposite side. This has a calming and balancing affect on the nervous system. When Ida and Pingala are equally active you can begin using more advanced pranayama techiniques to coax sushumna kundalini experience into consciousness. Or is it that you begin to bring consciousness into another dimension? There are truly no bounds to being.