NADI SHODHANA PRANAYAM
Hand position: Nasagra Mudra (nosetip position)
Hold the fingers of the right hand in front of the face. Rest the index and middle fingers gently on the eyebrow centre. Both fingers should be relaxed. The thumb is above the right nostril and the ring finger above the left. These two digits control the flow of breath in the nostrils by alternately pressing on one nostril, blocking the flow of breath, and then the other. The little finger is comfortably folded. When practising for long periods, the elbow may be supported by the left hand although care is needed to prevent chest restriction.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (psychic network purification)
Technique I: Preparatory practice
Sit in any comfortable meditation posture, preferably siddha/siddha yoni asana or padmasana. (Those who cannot sit in a meditation posture may sit against a wall with the legs outstretched or in a chair which has a straight back). 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. The rate of inhalation/exhalation should be normal. Be aware of each breath. After 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 5 times through both nostrils together. This is one round. Practise 5 rounds or for 3 to 5 minutes, making sure that there is no sound as the air passes through the nostrils. After practising for 15 days go on to technique 2.
Technique 2: Alternate nostril breathing
In this technique the duration of inhalation/exhalation is controlled. Close the right nostril with the thumb and breathe in 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 with yogic breathing. Do not strain. Close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril and while breathing out through the right nostril, simultaneously count, "1, Om; 2, Om; 3, Om". The time for 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, open the left nostril and exhale through the left nostril, counting as before. This is one round. Practise 10 rounds.
Ratio and timing: After a few days, if there is no difficulty, increase the length of inhalation/exhalation by one count. Continue in this way, increasing the inhalation/exhalation by one count as it becomes easy, until the count of 12:12 is reached. Do not force the breath in any way and be careful not to speed up the counting during exhalation to compensate for shortage of breath. At the slightest sign of discomfort reduce the count. After perfecting the above ratio, it may be changed to 1:2. For example, breathe in for a count of 5 and breathe out for a count of 10. Continue extending the breath by adding one count to the inhalation and two to the exhalation, up to the count of 12:24. This ratio establishes a calming rhythm for the brain and heart, assisting the treatment of cardiovascular and nervous system disorders specifically, and stress related conditions generally. When this technique can be performed with complete ease move on to technique 3.
Technique 3: with Antar Kumbhaka (inner retention)
In this technique antar kumbhaka or internal breath retention is introduced. Close the right nostril and breathe in 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. The glottis may be slightly contracted to hold the air within the lungs. Open the right nostril, breathe in slightly through the right nostril and then slowly breathe out through the same nostril for a count of 5. This slight inhalation at the end of inner retention helps to bring the respiratory muscles back into action again and relieves the locked condition of the glottis. The exhalation should be smooth and controlled and of the same length as the inhalation. At the end of exhalation, immediately 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, breathe in slightly through the left nostril and then breathe out through the same nostril for a count of 5. This is one round. Maintain constant awareness of the count and of the breath. Practise 10 rounds.
Ratio and timing: The maintenance of a strict ratio during inhalation, kumbhaka and exhalation is of the utmost importance. The ratio will change as the ability to hold the breath for longer periods of time progressively develops. After mastering the ratio of 1:1:1, increase the ratio to 1:1:2. For example, inhale for a count of 5, perform internal kumbhaka for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 10. After some weeks of practice, when this ratio has been mastered, increase the ratio to 1:2:2. Inhale for a count of 5, do internal kumbhaka for a count of 10 and exhale for a count of 10. After mastering the ratio of 1:2:2, gradually increase the count by adding one unit to the inhalation (e.g. 5 becomes 6), 2 units to the retention and 2 units to the exhalation (making each of them 12). The count of one round will then be 6:12:12. When this has been perfected and there is absolutely no discomfort, increase the count to 7:14:14. Gradually increase the count over a period of one or two years to 24:48:48. Thereafter, gradually increase the ratio to 1:3:2, and 1:4:2. Once this has been established, move on to technique 4.
Technique 4: with Antar and Bahir Kumbhaka (internal and external retention)
In this technique bahir kumbhaka or outer breath retention is introduced. Do not try to hold the breath outside for too long at first, even though it may seem easy. Inhale through the left nostril. Retain the breath inside in antar kumbhaka as described in technique 3. Exhale through the right nostril. After exhalation, when the lungs are deflated as much as possible, close both nostrils and hold the breath out for the chosen count. The glottis may be slightly contracted to hold the air out of the lungs. Exhale slightly through the right nostril immediately before inhaling. This will release the lock on the lungs and the glottis and bring the respiratory system smoothly back into operation. Inhale slowly through the right nostril. Retain the breath inside in antar kumbhaka. Exhale through the left nostril. Again, hold the breath out in bahir kumbhaka to the count, with both nostrils closed. This is one round. Remember to exhale slightly through the right nostril before breathing in at the start of the next round. Practise 5 rounds.
Ratio and timing: The ratio should start off as 1:4:2:2 for inhalation, internal retention, exhalation, external retention. The duration of inhalation should slowly be increased from 5 to 6 counts, then from 6 to 7 and so on, and the duration of exhalation and retention should be adjusted accordingly. Do not increase the count for inhalation until the relative counts for exhalation and breath retention are comfortable.
Advanced practice: Nadi shodhana pranayama may be practised in conjunction with jalandhara, moola and uddiyana bandhas (for details of these practices refer to the section Bandha). First practise jalandhara bandha with internal breath retention only. Once this practice has been perfected, combine jalandhara bandha with external breath retention. Then introduce moola bandha with jalandhara during internal retention, then external retention. When this has been mastered, apply uddiyana bandha on external retention only. It may be necessary to adjust the ratio of the breath to suit the individual capacity.
Breathing: Breathing should be silent in all techniques of nadi shodhana, ensuring that it is not forced or restricted in any way. As the ratio and duration increases the breath becomes very light and subtle. Increased ratios and breath duration should not be attained at the expense of relaxation, rhythm and awareness. The flow of breath must be smooth, with no jerks, throughout the practice. Always use the chest and diaphragm muscles and practise yogic breathing. If one of the nostrils is blocked, perform jala neti or breath balancing exercises before commencing.
Physical - on the breath and the counting. Mental - it is easy for the mind to wander during nadi shodhana. Simply be aware of this wandering tendency of the mind, continue the practice and the count. This will automatically encourage the awareness to return to the practice.
Spiritual - on ajna chakra.
Precautions: Depending on the phase of the moon, one of the two nostrils usually becomes strongly dominant during the time of sunrise and sunset. This is a period of intense swara, 'breath', activity and it is not advisable to alter the flows at this time. Under no circumstance should the breath be forced. Never breathe through the mouth. Proceed carefully and only under expert guidance. At the slightest sign of discomfort, reduce the duration of inhalation/ exhalation/retention and, if necessary, discontinue the practice for the day. Nadi shodhana should never be rushed.
Sequence: Nadi shodhana should be practised after asanas and heating or cooling pranayamas, and before bhramari and ujjayi pranayamas. The best time to practise is from 4 to 6 am; however, it may be performed any time during the day except after meals.
Duration: 5 to 10 rounds or 10 to 15 minutes daily.
Benefits: Nadi shodhana ensures that the whole body is nourished by an extra supply of oxygen. Carbon dioxide is efficiently expelled and the blood is purified of toxins. The brain centres are stimulated to work nearer to their optimum capacity. It also induces tranquillity, clarity of thought and concentration, and is recommended for those engaged in mental work. It increases vitality and lowers levels of stress and anxiety by harmonising the pranas. It clears pranic blockages and balances ida and pingala nadis, causing sushumna nadi to flow, which leads to deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening.
Practice note: Development of nadi shodhana is intended to take place over a long period of time. Each technique should be practised for a minimum of 6 months, except for technique 1 which may be practised for 2 to 4 weeks. Developing the ratios and timing of the breath in each technique may even take years. 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. Mastery of the later techniques may take some time to realise as the body and mind need to adjust to the effects of extended 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.
Note: The word nadi means 'channel' or 'flow' of energy and shodhana means 'purification'. Nadi shodhana, therefore, means that practice which purifies the nadis. The number 24, used for timing the breath, derives from classical texts which use the Gayatri mantra as a metre to measure the length of pranayamas; the Gayatri mantra is made up of 24 individual mantras.