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          Friday, March 23, 2018


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Prana Through the Nadis
By  Todd Caldecott

According to Ayurveda and yoga, the breath relates to the natural intelligence of the body, called prana, a subtle vibratory power that underlies all manifestation. While we receive prana from the food and water we consume, the prana that we obtain through breathing is the most important kind of prana, and the quality and nature of our breathing (as well as the quality of the air we breathe) influences the activity of prana in the body.

Prana is not a material substance that can be isolated and identified, but is an energy within the sukshma sharira or subtle body, that gives rise to and activates the physical body. Through the act of breathing prana enters into and courses through subtle channels or nadis that enliven all the tissues of the body. In this respect prana is the élan vital, the life principle of the body that makes us a living, evolving being, rather than a mass of inert chemicals.

While the ancient texts mention 72,000 subtle channels through which prana flows, the dominant flow of prana occurs within the ida and pingala nadis, two channels that course upwards on either side of the spine from their origin within the kanda or ‘bulb’ in the sacral plexus. Roughly speaking, the ida and pingala nadis relate to the activities of the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system, respectively.

As such, the ida nadi is associated with the rest and restorative system of the body, whereas the pingala nadi is associated with the fight and flight response. As each rises up the back and neck and over the head, the nadis meet in the ajna chakra, or ‘third eye,’ and then drop down into the nose, the ida nadi terminating in the left nostril, and the pingala nadi terminating in the right nostril.

Between these nadis lies the shushumna nadi, the ‘central’ channel that is located along the spinal axis of the body. In the yogic tradition the flow of prana within the sushumna nadi represents the awakening of kundalini, but in most people prana only flows within the ida and pingala nadis, representing the duality of human consciousness.

While the ultimate goal of yoga is to redirect the flow of prana from the lesser nadis into the shushumna to awaken kundalini, Ayurveda recognizes that in the meantime health is dependent upon the natural, balanced flow of prana within the pingala and ida nadis. This balance ensures the proper function of the autonomic nervous system, and the resultant effects in the body.

To maintain this balanced flow within the nadis, Ayurveda applies a number of techniques including nasya, jala neti and nadi shodhana, or what I describe as the “three Ns” to my patients. The first of these is nasya, which involves the application of a few drops of an unrefined oil such as sesame oil or a medicated oil such as Anu taila into each nostril, which is then inhaled into the nasal passage.

Oil has a unique property to penetrate through obstructions in the body, and in the form of nasya the oil helps to break up and loosen excess kapha or ‘phlegm’, which can then be easily expectorated. This type of nasya can be performed by most people, but is contraindicated in acute conditions of the nasopharynx, such as in a cold, fever or flu.

Jala neti, or nasal irrigation, is the second of the “three Ns”, and requires the use of small pot (i.e. a neti pot) that is used to administer an isotonic aqueous solution into the nasal passages, sinuses and nasopharynx via the nostrils. The best place to perform neti is over a bathroom sink in front of a mirror so you can observe the process. An isotonic solution can be prepared by adding a little sea salt to purified water, which given the capacity of most neti pots, is about 1/4 tsp. per 125 mL of water. The spout of the neti pot is inserted into the right nostril, and the head tilted to the left so that the left nostril is below that of the right.

The water is poured into the right nostril, and will travel through the nasopharynx and exit through the left nostril. Care should be taken not to bend the head to far forward so that the nose is below that chin as the water will not easily exit the nose. Performed properly no water will escape into the throat, and it is even possible to talk while performing neti.

Once complete the procedure is repeated by inserting the neti pot into the left nostril and pouring it through the right, now tilting the head to the right. Following neti there may still be a small amount of water remaining the nasopharynx. To remove any remain water the hands are placed on the hips and the body is first tilted to the left and a series of rapid, short and diaphragmatic exhalations (i.e. kabalabhati) are performed to eliminate the water; once the water is cleared from the right nostril the body is then tipped to the left and the same procedure is undertaken to clear out any remaining water from left nostril.

Neti is a very helpful technique to treat hyposecretory states of the mucosa, to treat chronic 'dry' stuffiness, and to prevent respiratory allergies and sensitivities. It is contraindicated when the nasal passages are completely blocked. Using nasya before neti helps with the effectiveness of neti.

The last of the “three Ns” is nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, an ancient yogic technique to purify the ida and pingala nadis. Nadi shodhana is performed by alternating inhalation and exhalation through one nostril while simultaneously blocking the other nostril. In the most common form of nadi shodhana the right hand is used: the index and middle fingers are placed in the middle of the brow (i.e. the ajna chakra or “third eye”), and the thumb and ring fingers are used to block the nostrils.

First the thumb closes the right nostril by pressing it against the septum and an inhalation is taken through the left nostril. The ring finger of the left hand then blocks the left nostril and the thumb is released, and exhalation is performed through the right nostril.

Without changing the position of the fingers the right nostril is then used to inhale while blocking the left nostril, and then the right nostril is blocked with the thumb and exhalation is performed by the left nostril. This counts as one cycle.

Typically, six cycles are performed after which the person breathes normally for several seconds, and then another round of cycles is initiated. In total there should be at least three rounds of six cycles. To help keep track of the cycles yogic practitioners will often count using the inter-digital spaces of the left hand. Nadi shodhana is typically performed while sitting cross-legged on the floor, with a straight back and relaxed shoulders, but can also be performed while sitting normally in a chair with a straight back.

Practicing the “three Ns” is an important way to balance the flow of prana in the body, and also helps to treat chronic respiratory disorders. I find it a particularly helpful technique for conditions such as chronic sinusitis and seasonal allergies. In my next article, I will expand further on the importance of breath, and some techniques to recognize and correct dysfunctional breathing patterns that disrupt the flow of prana in the body, promoting illness and disease. .


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