Breath work for weight loss, balance and purification
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Do you really want to get healthy but feel a total energy zap? Are you watching your neighbors go out for their evening walk and WANT to join them but just can’t muster anything beyond the thought? Let me help you understand why that energy imbalance is disrupting you from becoming who you can be. If you can offer yourself five minutes to rebalance the energy, I know you will move from ida (or yin) dominance to prana balanced and ready for action. We often hear about the increased stress of this time on the planet. With so much currently beyond our control we can begin to feel helpless which leads quickly to depression and an imbalance in our energy. I am very practical. I like science based, actionable information that returns me to my personal power. I have spent the last year researching and practicing many forms of breath work, or pranayama. I am inspired to share my core take away. I do this short practice every day and I’ll share with you why I’ve found it immensely helpful.
In his recent book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor shares his self experimentation with nasal breathing. Spoiler alert: when he switched from mouth only breathing to nasal breathing, he lost weight. What if we could take just five minutes of our day to bring our autonomic nervous system into balance? Actually igniting and inspiring the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere of the brain. Moving us from our personality dominance back to a centered balance. What if this is the keystone to health and longevity? Would you be willing to devote 5 minutes to your breath and systemic centering? My research has found this proven ancient practice of Nadi Shodhana has the power to bring the benefits of energy balance and purification to all.
If you’ve been reading about societal stress, you may have come across mention of the role of the sympathetic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two branches; the sympathetic nervous system (fight, fight or freeze) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest and recover.) The wellness and health of our bodies requires a balance between these complimentary systems. The sympathetic is valuable for alert attention and progress while the parasympathetic is valuable for creative connections and assimilating what we’ve learned. They are the yin/yang and male/female co-creators of our experience. Living too much in one or the other moves us away from our health and wellness balance and eventually toward illness.
The example of the overly sympathetic nervous system dominant human is easy to sketch; type A, driven, I can handle it, I’m better under pressure, I can sleep when I’m dead. The overly parasympathetic system dominant person can look a lot like depression; no energy, maybe tomorrow, I can’t exercise, I love carbohydrates, I wake up tired. Our type A friend would benefit from a daily meditation class while our inactive friend could do with a morning walking routine. Do you see yourself somewhere along this spectrum? We all need both. As the old Lama said, ‘If you don’t have time to mediate for 10 minutes, meditate for an hour.’ And I will add if you don’t have time to walk for 10 minutes, walk for an hour.
Practical application of the daily rebalancing of these systems was clearly outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika written in the 15th century by Svātmārāma. Nadi Shodhana pranayama, or as it is often referred, alternate nostril breathing, was outlined as a daily practice to bring the koshas (subtle energy bodies) into alignment. Let me give some context understanding to this ancient wisdom. Nadis means channel or flute. According to Svātmārāma we are said to have 72,000 nadis channeling our vital energy or prana throughout our subtle body. Shodhana means to purify. The nadi shodhana pranayama practice brings balance to the two systemic co-creators and moves the prana to the śuśumna (most gracious) nadi; our central nadi aligning all chakras and through which it is said kundalini rises. The ancient Chinese called it yin/yang and the ancient yogic traditions called it ida/pingala. Picture your spine and the chakras, or energy wheels, aligned from the base to the crown. Now imagine a channel of energy beginning is the root chakra and winding up like a snake slaloming up, weaving to the right hemisphere of the brain. This is your ida nadi, a major artery of prana and the balancing aspects of creativity. Mirroring this, winding from the base to the top in opposition is your pingala nadi. It ignites the left hemisphere and our logic base. From the image of the ida and pingala interacting, I am always reminded of the Rod of Ascelpius. It is used as the symbol for medicine, with the two snakes winding up the rod toward to meet at the top. Balance is health.
Whenever we are about to move energy around in the body, physical alignment is ideal. I like to think of a garden hose with a crimp, not much gets though. So, sit tall as you can and rest your left hand on your left thigh. I use the Gyan mudra (tip of left thumb and the tip of the left pointer finger gently meet while the other three fingers straighten) with my palm up if I’m lifting my energy or palm down if I’m seeking grounding.The Gyan mudra helps focus the energy and open us to accept knowledge. My right hand is in Vishnu Mudra (first two fingers folded into the palm) to encourage balancing the earth, water and fire elements of the bottom three chakras. Lord Vishnu is a Hindu god who is charged with protecting the humans and bringing balance to the universe, this is a powerful mudra. Bring the right thumb to rest gently on the right nostril, stopping the air flow from the right nostril as you inhale and exhale only with the left nostril. You are igniting your ida nadi bringing creativity, recovery, lunar energy and your right brain into focus.
Take long inhales and exhales with the left nostril eight times.
Now change to breathing only through your right nostril. Gently sealing your left nostril with your ring finger.
Take long inhales and exhales with your right nostril eight times.
You are igniting your pingala nadi, logic, building, solar energy and left brain awaken. Let your attention rest on slow inhales and elongated exhales as we begin to alternate the breathing.
Inhale right nostril, exhale left. Inhale left nostril, exhale right.
Set a timer for three minutes. Allow your focus to be internal and on the breath. Feel the breath moving in and out of your physical body. Feel the power of the breath balancing your physical, energy, mental, wisdom and bliss bodies.
Our habits are driven by our identity. I encourage you to see yourself as the creator of your destiny. Take five minutes to bring yourself to balance. Now, ask yourself, what is my purpose? Move toward your best self, five minutes at a time.