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Befriend Your Psychic Network

March 29, 2010


Are you breathing? Observe your breath, do it now.  Don’t change it, simply tune in.  Breath is life yet most of us rarely bring our attention to its process.  Become aware of your breath, do it now. “When the breath is unsteady, the mind is unsteady.  When the breath is steady, the mind is steady, and the yogi becomes steady.  Therefore one should restrain the breath.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.2) Whether you intend to deepen your asana practice, soothe your mind, or prepare yourself for meditation, you must first go to the origin, which is breath.

Consider your breath a narrative, a psychic map of sorts, and in listening to it fill and expel from the lungs you can begin to collect a myriad of keys that will gradually and gently unlock the mysteries of your body.  We begin with breath awareness and move on to pranayama, the regulation and manipulation of the breath/prana.  Prana and breath are not strictly synonymous. Prana is more aptly defined as life-force, similar to the Chinese concept of ch’i, or Japanese ki.  However, as prana relates closely with our breathing, we are able to access and work with prana most directly through breath-work.  Why do we do it?

Yoga philosophy maintains that human beings are composed of several layers, which are referred to as koshas.  The outermost kosha is the physical body; this includes the skeletal, muscular, and organic systems as well as the neuroendocrine system and the central nervous system.  In many ways this layer, the anamaya kosha, is the star of the show in our asana practice.  Beneath the physical body we come first to the pranamaya kosha, which is the aspect of self that is supported by our breath and life-force.  Deeper still, we find manamaya kosha, or the mind sheath.  It is at this level that our consciousness is situated, along with the wild bull, or ego.  Beyond manamaya we come to vijnanamaya, which can be understood as the sheath of knowledge.  It is at this level that yogis believe the intellect and the ego link together events past and present (this life and the many before it) to form the personality.  Finally, we approach the core, anandamaya kosha, which is also called bliss.

We tone the physical body through asana, the pranamaya kosha through breath-work, and manamaya and vijnanamaya in practicing the application of the Yamas and Niyamas and also through meditation. All of this work leads you in turn to Bliss.  This is Yoga: The methodical approach toward self-realization.  It is a long-winded 8-limbed process and so know your breath.  It is your compass, your key, and your force.  Keep in mind the words of the sages, “Just as a lion, elephant, or tiger is tamed step by step, so the breath is controlled.  Otherwise it kills the practitioner.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.15) Take heart! “The practice of the perfect discipline is achieved in stages.” (Patanjali Yoga Sutras)

Let’s focus here on the pranamaya kosha.  The subtle body is said to consist of a network or conduits, or nadis, which traffic the prana throughout the system.  There are thought to be 72,000 nadis in all, according to most classic texts. Just as our physical bodies are often plagued with tension and toxins, the subtle body is similarly in a state of dis-ease.  As regular and correct asana practice detoxifies the body, pranayama purifies the nadis and thus facilitates the free flow of prana throughout the system.  When the nadis are blocked with impurities, the disrupted flow of prana often manifests in physical, mental, and emotional ailments.  The severity of the ailment is in direct correlation to the blockage in the subtle system.  However, it is not only good health that the yogi aspires to achieve, she is after all on the Royal Path to freedom, which is in fact the method to bring the life force up through the central channel, sushumna nadi , which is located in the core of the spine.  This movement of prana is ideal as it moves through each of the major energy centers (or chakras) and is said to ultimately lead to bliss.

But, “When the nadis are disrupted by impurities, the breath doesn’t enter the middle (sushumna).  How can unmani exist?  How can the goal be attained?” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.4)  The question remains, how do I purify my psychic network?  What constitutes cleaning house on the subtle body?  Yogis and Yoginis, meet Nadi Shodhana, or Psychic Network Purification.  It is known to be the greatest of all pranayamas, and should be undertaken by practitioners who are disciplined in asana and committed to a yogic diet.  Those who eat meat and drink alcohol and caffeine may still benefit from Nadi Shodhana but the benefits are increased exponentially when one’s diet is pure.

Practice:  Seat yourself in a meditative posture, make sure your spine, neck and head are aligned. You can sit in the simple pose (legs crossed in front) if you are a beginner. Ideally, according to my teacher and the Bihar School tradition, one should sit in Padmasana (lotus pose)or siddhasana/siddha yoni (right foot tucked into the crotch and left heel tucked into the pubic bone). Also, if you are a beginner and your back is not as strong and flexible as it will be, you can sit against a wall to help keep yourself straight. It’s not cheating! So don’t worry!!

Relax your body and bring your mind to your breathing- follow the natural flow of breath, do this for a minute or two. Place your left hand on your left knee in Chin Mudra (thumb and pointer touching with remaining fingers extended, palm facing up. Next, with your right hand assume Nasagra Mudra (pointer and middle fingers press into the eyebrow center while thumb is alongside the right nostril and ring and pinky fingers are along the left nostril. Take a normal breath then close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale through the right nostril for 6 to 24 seconds and exhale for an equal count. Repeat five times. Release the right nostril and close the left nostril with the ring finger. Again, inhale and exhale five times for the same count. Bring the right hand down and into Chin Mudra on the right knee and breathe through both nostrils for the same count again, five times. This constitutes one round, that right side, left side and both nostrils open. Practice five rounds.

Notes: You might find yourself feeling impatient and eager to stop, push through it and continue the practice. You will find after completing the practice that it was well worth your efforts.

If you are a smoker or a beginner please start with 6 second inhalations- if this is too much start with 4 second inhalations. You should not feel dizzy or out of breath when practicing pranayama- so be honest with yourself and don’t worry about being a Yoga rockstar. One is practicing advanced Yoga when the mind is focused and disciplined- so be mindful and you will realize the benefits.

There are many variations on the practice of Nadi Shodhana, this is one.  All variations share in common the alternate nostril breathing.  Dona Holleman suggests in her “Dancing the Body Light” that practitioners also alternate hands so that the both the body and breath are balanced.

This article originally appeared on under the same title.

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