Day 13 – nadi shodhana pranayama

I feel as if there is no question about whether or not I want to meditate. Almost two weeks of meditation and it is starting to become a habit already. I do a 35 minute Vinyasa Flow sequence and then light up some camphor resin and sit down wrapped in a shawl. Still not too sure what happened to summer in Sydney but I will be in Bali and then Mexico next week so I’m kind of appreciating a little chill.

Nadi Shodhana pranayama. Nadi means ‘channel’ or ‘flow’ of energy and shodhana means ‘purification’. There are multiple levels of practice for nadhi shodhana and the text Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha suggests practicing each technique for six months before advancing to the next. I will only go through the most basic technique, the alternate nostril breath, which can be performed by anyone. It balances the Ida and Pingala nadis that travel up the spine, interweaving the chakras. The Ida nadi is similar to Yin. It is the feminine, lunar energy that dominates the left hand side of the body and is related to the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells you to relax and keeps you calm. Alternatively, the Pingala nadi is the Yang side and is masculine, solar energy. It dominates the right hand side of the body and relates to the sympathetic nervous system, i.e. fight or flight reactions and cortisol levels. Constantly high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can lead to many problems as it catabolises protein into amino acids which are then released into the blood as energy. This inhibits muscle development. When cortisol is elevated, the heart beats faster causing blood pressure to rise, breath to become shallow, blood vessels are constricted, blood sugar rises, the blood supply to the digestive organs is reduced, less growth hormones and sex hormones are released and the immune system is suppressed.

In Nadi shodhana, as the alternate nostrils are used to breathe, Ida and Pingala become balanced. It is a good idea to practise a Jala Neti before hand as one nostril may be blocked, especially if practicing in the morning. Usually after sleep, the right nostril will be blocked as you will be breathing with the Ida side as you are more relaxed. The dominant nostril will will change every 90 minutes, according to the physical, mental or emotional state you are in, and people often have one nostril bigger than the other. In this way you can tell if they are more likely to be relaxed and laid back or high strung and fiery. The ratio of the inhale and exhale should be equal and the text suggests counting 1 Om, 2 Om, 3 Om…

The idea is that the breath will eventually (after a few years of practice) increase to a ration of 24 for the inhale which was a traditional technique from the classical texts which use the Gayatri mantra as a metre to measure the length of pranayamas; the Gayatri mantra has 24 individual mantras. It is a truly beautiful mantra and worth taking a listen to even if you aren’t using it for pranayama.

Watch Gayatri Mantra on YouTube.

For now I am content to inhale for four and exhale for four. As my mind starts to drift away from the pranayama, I bring it back to the point where my fingers are resting on my third eye and keep my awareness on that sensation as I release the count and just breathe.

18 minutes in this way and I feel balanced, relaxed and ready to take on the day.

Until I get a call from my doctor. I have forgotten to get a second blood test. I have a low white blood cell count. Probably stress related. I need to get to the doctors before 9.30am in order to get my blood taken so I can get the results before I leave. As in, the morning I leave for Mexico. By then, there won’t be much I can do about it except to breathe. But that’s all any of us can ever do. Just breathe.

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This image from yoga-art.net shows the Ida and Pingala channels interweaving the chakras (wheels of energy that dominate areas of the subtle, spiritual, body).Very briefly:

Mooladhara: Red, root or base chakra is our connection to earth

Svadhisthana: Orange, sacral chakra is our creative seat and sexuality

Manipura: Yellow, solar plexus chakra, is power centre, ego, self esteem and confidence

Anahata: Green, the heart chakra, is love, compassion, connection

Vissudha: Blue, the throat chakra is communication, speaking truth

Ajna: Indigo blue, the third eye chakra, is our intuition, psychic perception, imagination and dream state or subconscious

Sahasrara: Crown chakra, wisdom, knowledge, the connection the universe, to the divine or higher self or spiritual realm.

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