Breathing takes place twenty-four hours a day, whether or not you are aware of it. Without breathing, survival is not possible. Therefore, breathing is an essential companion. Normal breathing is an automatic body function.
However, it can be useful to pay a little more attention to breathing.
Swara Yoga is an ancient science that explores how life energy, Prana, is controlled by breathing. The term Swara Yoga has its origin in Sanskrit and consists of the two words Swara and Yoga. Swara means sound, tone, note. Yoga stands for connection and (spiritual) practice.
Thus Swara Yoga means the connection of sounds. The breath, which can also be perceived as a sound, is the heart of Swara Yoga. Therefore one speaks also of the Yoga of the breath.
The subject of Swara Yoga is the control of the Prana and the activation of energies.
Perceiving the alternate breath
Observe how you breathe in and out through your nostrils. You may notice that most of the time, the breathing does not go evenly through both nostrils, but more air flows through one nostril. To perceive this even better, keep one nostril closed (left nostril — left hand, right nostril — right hand) and breathe in and out only through the open nostril. How does it feel? Then change the nostril and breathe in and out again for a while. Can you feel a difference? Which nostril is dominant?
One nostril’s dominance does not last forever. The nostrils alternate again after a particular time. The change usually occurs after one to two hours.
But what does this mean? Depending on which nostril more breath flows through, it has different effects on our nervous system and our brain.
The three Swaras
Because breathing is reciprocal, different Swaras can flow at different times. One Swara flows through the left nostril, another through the right nostril, and the third is active when the breath flows through both nostrils at the same time.
The different Swaras have a very different effect on our energy and nervous system.
The three Swaras correspond to the three following systems:
- Life force/life energy,
- Spirit (consciousness, mental-spiritual functions) and
- The self, the eternal, indestructible inner form.
In Swara Yoga, these systems are called Prana (life energy), Chitta (consciousness), and Atma (the self).
When the breath flows through the left nostril, Chitta is strong, and Prana is weak. When the breath flows through the right nostril, Prana is vital, and Chitta is weak.
When the breath flows through both nostrils simultaneously, it means that Atma is strong.
Depending on which Swara is active, this impacts our mental, physical and spiritual activities:
- Physical activities include talking, walking, eating, sports, and physical work.
- Mental activities are thinking, planning, worrying, remembering something (e.g., a poem or a melody), and learning.
- Spiritual activities include mediation, prayer, and contemplation.
The Swara, which flows through the right nostril, supports physical activities. The Swara flowing through the left nostril supports mental activities. When the breath flows through both nostrils, spiritual activities are encouraged.
If the breath is currently flowing through the right nostril more strongly, the result is that it can be challenging to concentrate, learn, or fall asleep.
Similarly, when the left nostril is dominant, it isn’t easy to perform physical activities because the mind is continuously wandering back and forth.
The term Nadi has its origin in Sanskrit and means channel, hose, or vein. Arteries, veins, and also, the nerves are called Nadis. But Nadis also represent channels in the subtle matter body. And these are the Nadis that Swara Yoga is all about.
Nadis are, therefore, the subtle energy channels. It is assumed that there are about 72000 subtle Nadis in the human body.
There are three main Nadis in the human energy body: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. Sushumna is a channel that runs through the middle of the spinal canal. It extends from the lower end of the spine to the third eye.
Ida runs from the lower end of the spine, on the Sushumna’s right side, to the left nostril. Pingala runs left from the Sushumna to the right nostril.
When the breath flows through the right nostril, Pingala stimulates the body. When the breath flows through the left nostril, Ida activates the mind.
Ida and pingala represent the sun (pingala) and moon energy (Ida).
When the breath flows through both nostrils, Sushumna stimulates the spiritual potential.
When Sushumna flows, mental and physical energy is equal and rhythmic. The mind is calm; no thoughts are floating around. This moment can also be called a gap. It is a gap of thoughts. In meditation, this is precisely the state you want to reach.
When the change between Ida and Pingala, the breath flows balanced for a short time, and Sushumna dominates. The goal of Swara Yoga is to nourish Sushumna and to prolong the balanced state.
Some people breathe mainly through one nostril. The curvature of the nasal septum, unilateral polyps, or swelling of the mucous membranes can be the cause and can lead to an energetic imbalance. Or there is first an energetic imbalance, which then leads to an anatomical change.
Which activities are suitable for which Nadi?
By adapting your activities to the respective nostril dominance and thus Nadi dominance, you can achieve interesting effects. Many everyday tasks suddenly become more effortless.
Activities with open Ida-Nadi
When the left nostril is active, the Prana flows through Ida-Nadi. Then Chandra-Prana, the moon energy, is more involved.
The following activities are recommended when the left nostril is more open, and therefore the moon energy is more vital:
- Making important decisions. Important decisions are seldom only logically justified; usually, they require a good intuition.
- Start something new: Start a journey, start a new job, choose a property, plan a new building. If you start something new, you should be very open and understand everything intuitively before you initiate changes yourself.
- Visit friends and make new acquaintances: The female side in everyone is more communicative and understanding.
- Making music, singing, art work.
Activities with open Pingala-Nadi
When the right nostril is active, the Prana flows through Pingala Nadi. Then Surya-Prana, the solar energy, is more involved.
The following activities are recommended when the right nostril is more open, and therefore the solar energy is more active:
- Implementation of decisions made,
- physical work, generally destructive activities: demolition work, cutting of materials,
- Clean the apartment, take out the trash,
- Renovate the property,
- Lead discussions/debates, convince others,
- Think logically
- Make simple decisions, namely those, which are to make logically,
- Doing sports.
Activities with evenly opened Nadis
If both nostrils are equally open, this is a sign that the Prana is flowing through the Sushumna. It is the best time for meditation.
The five elements (Tattwas)
In Swara Yoga and Tantra’s philosophy, the following five Tattwas play an essential role:
- Earth (Prithvi)
- Water (Apas)
- Fire (Agni),
- Air (Vayu),
- Ether (Akasha).
The elements represent specific frequencies and the nature of Prana and Chitta.
Earth stands for material prosperity and long-term success. When this element is dominant, it indicates stable living and long-term success. Material things succeed well.
Water stands for immediate success. These results may be somewhat below expectations. The results are not permanent and are subject to fluctuations.
Fire can lead to unwanted results; success does not materialize. When Agni is active, one should instead hold back in order not to get into trouble.
Air brings unstable conditions with it. Something can succeed or even go wrong.
While the element ether dominates, it is an excellent time to go inwards. No thoughts or worries burden you.
To get a feeling for the elements, the Shanmukhi Mudra is a good practice.
Sit upright on a mat and a meditation cushion. Bring your arms slightly up — palms facing the face, elbows left and right of the body, about shoulder level.
Close your eyes. Now close both ears with your thumbs, place the middle fingers on the nostrils, place the index fingers on the corners of the eyes. Breathe in through the mouth. Feel how the prana flows in your body. Now hold your breath and close your mouth with the remaining fingers. Place the ring fingers slightly above the upper lip and the little fingers below the lower lip. Loosen the middle fingers a little and exhale through the nose. Loosen the fingers around the mouth and breathe in through the mouth again. Repeat the steps and perform five cycles. Keep your eyes closed for the whole time.
Afterward sit still with closed eyes. Concentrate on your third eye. Feel if you can perceive color or a color circle.
A yellow color points to the element earth, white to water, red to fire, and blue to air. Black or different colored dots point to ether. If you see only black from the beginning, this does not usually mean that the element ether is always active. It rather indicates that you don’t see anything yet and still have to practice.
Regular practice (2–3 times a day) over several months is necessary before colors appear. After 3–4 weeks, you can increase the number of cycles from 5 to 10.
Practice with the Tattwa Yantras — Tattwa Sadhana
Traditionally, yantras were made of a particular metal and in unique colors and were provided with mantras. However, one can also practice with the yantras by painting them on a piece of paper in the respective color and reciting a mantra.
Before you start the exercise, paint a small black dot in the middle of the yantras. You can then concentrate on this with your eyes.
Sit in a comfortable meditation position. Your hands lie loosely in your lap. If your Yantra is small, attach it about an arm’s length away from you. The Yantra should be precisely at eye level.
Start with the Prithvi Yantra. Look at the Yantra without blinking. Repeat the mantra Lam internally. Focus your mind only on the Yantra and the sound of the mantra. When your eyes get tired, you can close them. Then concentrate on the point between your eyebrows (Chidakasha) and the sound of the mantra. Practice for 5 minutes and then close your eyes if they are not already closed. Visualize the Yantra and the color inside. Then repeat this exercise with the four remaining Tattwa Yantras.
When you finish, sit still with your eyes closed. Observe your breath. Focus on the point between your eyebrows. Can you see a dominant color or shape there? Color and shape will give you a hint about the currently active Tattwa.
Chhayopasana is one of the essential exercises in Swara Yoga. Chhaya means shadow, and Upasana is the constant practice of concentration.
Instead of concentrating on one Yantra as in the Tattwa Sadhana practice, in Chhayopasana, one practices concentration on one’s own shadow. Chhayopasana is uncomplicated but very intensive and has a positive effect on the mind and the energy and nervous system.
The best time for the exercise is between seven and eight o’clock in the morning. Do the activity outside at sunrise.
Stand upright, hands to the left and right of your body, with the sun at your back. Your shadow should be right in front of your eyes. Concentrate your gaze on the neck area of the shadow. Repeat the mantra Hrim Prabrahmane Namaha 108 times internally.
Then close your eyes and concentrate on the point between your eyebrows. You should still see your shadow inside. Open your eyes and look at the sky. The image of your shadow should now appear before your open eyes. It may take a few days or weeks of practice before the shadow appears in front of your open eyes.
The image that appears in front of your eyes represents your Prana body. If the image is not complete, this indicates disharmony in your body. If you see many colors simultaneously, this is a sign of a good development of your intuition.
Alternate breathing (Anuloma Viloma)
Through alternating breathing, you can harmonize Ida and Pingala and strength Sushumna. It helps to increase lung capacity and is good training for the heart and circulation. It has a balancing and harmonizing effect on all body systems.
The Nadis are opened and Prana can flow better. The alternating breathing relaxes, calms, strengthens, and vitalizes.
You inhale through one nostril, hold your breath, then exhale through the other nostril — in the ratio 2:8:4.
One cycle of alternating breathing consists of six steps. Start with ten passes and gradually expand the exercise to twenty after 1–2 weeks.
During alternate breathing, use the right hand to close each nostril in the Visnu Mudra.
The right index and middle finger are bent. Lead the hand to the nose. The right thumb closes the right nostril, the ring finger and little finger touch and closes the left nostril.
The alternating breathing step by step:
- Close the right nostril with the thumb and breathe in through the left nostril. Count to four.
- Close both nostrils and hold your breath Count to sixteen.
- Open the right nostril and exhale. Keep the left nostril closed with the ring finger and little finger. Count to eight.
- Breathe in through the right nostril; the left nostril is still closed. Count to four.
- Close both nostrils and hold your breath. Count to sixteen.
- Open the left nostril and exhale. The right nostril remains closed with the right thumb. Count to eight
One cycle is now complete. Now repeat steps 1 to 6 nine more times.
Practice Neti, the nose cleaning, regularly. Lightly salted, lukewarm water flows through the nasal passages and flushes out impurities. Deposits can be dissolved, and the normal functioning of the nasal mucosa can be restored. Nasal rinsing keeps the connecting channels’ small openings, which lead into the nasal cavity, free. The mucous membranes become swollen, and breathing through the nose is freed again.
Put some iodine-free salt without additives into a Neti nasal rinsing pot, preferably Himalayan crystal salt or sea salt. Fill the nasal rinsing pot with lukewarm water (approx. 2–3 gram salt to 1/4 liter water). Then insert the beak of the jug slightly into one nostril. Tilt the head slightly forwards and to the side, and then lift the pot so that the saltwater can run into the nostril and out through the lower nostril by itself. Breathe gently through the open mouth. Then blow out through both nostrils. Repeat with the other nostril.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic, I can recommend this book:
Swami Muktibodhananda: Swara Yoga: The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing
Disclosure: The book link is an affiliate link. If something is bought through it, I may receive a commission.