Nadi Shodhanam Pranayama - Alternate Breathing

Nadi Shodhanam or Alternate Breathing is described here for those participating in Yoga Mentoring with Radhika-ji.

Nadi Shodhanam means purification of the nadis, the energy channels. Nadi Shodhanam is preparation for meditation. It is one of the finest pranayama practices.  Nadi Shodhanam helps to train the sadhaka's concentration and will and eventually gain control over the autonomic nervous system. Bringing the nervous system into balance is the key to deeper meditation.

But before you start Nadi Shodhanam you should have worked on

1.establishing natural and effortless diaphragmatic breathing

2.establishing even or equal breath, that is inhalation is equal to exhalation

3.establishing silent breathing, without noise

4.establishing smooth breathing, without jerkiness 

5.eliminating extended pauses between inhalation and exhalation

When you have established all the 5 above mentioned points you are ready to start with Nadi Shodhanam. 

How to practice Nadi Shodhanam

There are different variations of Nadi Shodhanam. There are also variations with breath retention. In our Tradition we do not practice breath retention called kumbhaka. We recommend 3 different variations, all without retention. All the three variations should be practiced.

Sit with the head, neck and trunk in a straight line. Sit in your chosen meditative posture and do this practice silently. You may sit in: 

  • Maitri Asana - the Friendship pose 
  • Sukhasana - the Easy Pose 
  • Svastikasana - the Auspicious Pose or 
  • Siddhasana - the Accomplished Pose

Nadi Shodhanam is a well known pranayama practice. It is generally practiced with the use of the fingers in a special manner called Vishnu Mudra.

Nadi Shodhanam with Vishnu Mudra

Variation 1:

Sit in meditative posture.

Determine which nostril is active.

Allow the eyes to be closed gently. 

Use Vishnu Mudra to close the nostrils in alternation. In this Mudra, the index and middle fingers of the right hand are folded  to the palm. 

Use the right thumb to close the right nostril.

And use the right ring and little finger to close the left nostril. Do not use any pressure to do this, a gentle touch is sufficient.

Gently close the passive nostril and exhale smoothly through the active nostril. At the end of the exhalation, close the active nostril, release the passive nostril, and inhale through the passive nostril slowly. This is one cycle.

The duration of the inhalation and exhalation should be equal. The inhalation and exhalation should be slow, smooth and silent. There should be no pauses. Do two more cycles. 

At the end of the third inhalation through the passive nostril, exhale through the same nostril keeping the active nostril closed. When this exhalation is complete, close the passive nostril and then open the active one, inhaling through the active nostril. This is one cycle. Repeat this 2 more times, exhaling through the passive and inhaling through the active. 

This is one set of Nadi Shodhanam Variation 1. You will find the diagram useful and easy to follow.

Place the hands on the knees and then exhale and inhale through both nostrils normally for 15-30 seconds before starting the next set of variation 2. Take the time between sets to come back to your normal breathing. This may not seem to make a difference initially, but as you elongate the breath, you will find these short breaks of normal breathing useful.

Variation 2:

Variation 3: 

Nadi Shodhanam without Vishnu Mudra

Most sadhakas (practitioners) know Nadi Shodhanam with Vishnu Mudra. The Samaya Tradition of Srividya is unique in this respect. Our Tradition and Lineage of the Himalayan Masters teaches that we must master Nadi Shodhanam without use of Vishnu mudra, that is, without use of fingers. This seems impossible. How can one change the flow of air from one nostrils to another?

Swami Rama explains this in his lecture on Saundarya-lahiri:

"Now the shortest cut; I am giving you this time.  Leave all that nose business. (referring to finger movements in Nadi Shodanam) You have done enough. You have done for many years. Now you have to use your mental effort to regulate your breath. For simple reason, if you pay attention on this, (indicates left nostril) that nostril will become active.  If you pay attention on this (indicates right nostril) that nostril will become active.  You should learn to change the breath consciously once in a day, so that breath functions according to your conscious control."

Initially you may find it useful to practice Nadi Shodhanam with Vishnu Mudra. Once you know the 3 variations by heart you do not need external aids such as oral or printed instructions to take you through the practice. When you are familiar with the practice, you can drop Vishnu Mudra and concentrate on changing the flow of breath from one nostril to the other. 

Variation 1:

Sit in meditative posture.

Determine which nostril is active. 

Allow the eyes to be closed gently.

Focus your attention on the spot directly at the active nostril and exhale smoothly through it. At the end of the exhalation, shift your attention to the passive nostril, and inhale through the passive nostril slowly. This is one cycle. Do two more cycles.

At the end of the third inhalation through the passive nostril, exhale through the same nostril. When this exhalation is complete, inhale through the active nostril. This is one cycle. Repeat this 2 more times, exhaling through the passive and inhaling through the active. This is one set of variation 1.

Place the hands on the knees and then exhale and inhale through both nostrils normally for a few moments before starting the next set of variation 2. Take the time between sets to come back to your normal breathing. This may not seem to make a difference initially, but as you elongate the breath, you will find these short breaks of normal breathing useful.

You can also practice Variation 1 and 2 shown above, without using Vishnu Mudra.

Our YouTube Channel playlist has many clips on different topics, such as Samaya Srividya, Chakras, Pranayama, Self Enquiry, Prayer, etc.

Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel  THATfirst Satsang 

 

Useful Tips

  1. Learning to use mental effort or focussing awareness on the space before the nostrils is a critical aspect of training that should not be ignored or skipped if a sadhaka wishes to progress. This is the key to mastering Pranayama. 
  2. Do not visualize the breath going out through one nostril and then in through the other. Instead just shift your attention from one nostril to the other, moving left and right in the space before the nostrils.

Dangers of Pranayama

There are serious dangers involved in doing pranayama practices without a trained teacher from an unbroken lineage and ancient tradition. 

Swami Rama says in Lectures on Saundaryalahiri, "Many teachers do not practice and then teach others just to do experiments. That's a very dangerous thing to do.  In books there are many things written. Some of the writers wrote them without knowing.  They took from here and there and wrote a book. Bad yoga practice can lead you to very dangerous situations for which there is no medicine. Suppose your pranic vehicles are disturbed because of your foolish practices that you have read through books. Where is the medicine for that? Therefore, a teacher is needed, and the teacher should be skilled enough not to mislead their students, not to make experiments on them. Let teachers make experiments on themselves. So, we have always in the scriptures, warnings, yellow mark on the scriptures, 'Don't do it!' It's a tradition."

Disturbance of pranic vehicle due to wrong Pranayama practice can lead to many imbalances causing, among other things:

  • Headache
  • Erratic mood change
  • Depression
  • Tendency to colds and congestion
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness

Prolonged practice of incorrect pranayama techniques can lead to serious and permanent disturbance or imbalance of the nervous system. The only practice you can do safely without guidance is Diaphragmatic Breathing.

Precautionary Measures

  • Pranayama practice should not be done out of books, websites or videos.
  • Pranayama practice should be undertaken only with highly experienced and qualified teachers of an unbroken lineage and ancient tradition. 
  • Avoid teachers that mix practices from different traditions.
  • If you do not find an experienced and qualified teacher, then it is better not to do any pranayama practice. 
  • Retention (Kumbhaka) is not recommended.

Comments:

Ramani from Kolkata:
Well explained

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