Swara Yoga - Science of Breath
by Rebecca Ellen (Yoga Teacher Training)
“My, what an active child he is – very creative and focused, must be right brained”. I am sure somewhere, at some time in your life, you have heard those words spoken.
Most of us, whether active participants, victim or innocent bystander, have been exposed to the stereotypes that are attached to another simply because of his/her predominant behavior. At times the generalizations see, innocent enough, carrying with the, little harm, however in some environments, such stereotypes have the potential to create extreme stress in an individual’s life.
In a country (such as the US) where the majority of its citizens are classified as suffering from some diagnosable form of mental/physical imbalance, stereotypes manifest into labels. These labels become the way in which individuals function, accepting the imposed classification of ‘unbalanced’ or ‘incomplete’. Thus reacting as such, so many turn to medications to sort out these ‘imbalances’, growing more and more dependent upon mechanics outside of their direct control. Swara yoga is the ancient science of pranic body, which explains how movement of the prana (bio-energy/vital life force) within the body can be controlled by manipulation of the breath. ‘Swara’ means ‘the sound of one’s own breath’. ‘Yoga’ means ‘union’. Therefore, swara enables the state of union to be reached by means of one’s own breath.
For thousands of years yogis have known that when the right nostril is flowing more freely, in the state they call pinjala, we are more extroverted, active, physical and warmer. Whereas when the left nostril is flowing more freely, in the state they call ida, we are more introverted, passive and cooler in our behavior and attitude. When the flows are balanced, in the state called ‘sushumma’, those qualities are balanced also.
Although a foreign concept to the majority of us, this system (process of swara) has become fairly familiar to the scientific community. There now exists a solid body of scientific evidence that not only supports their assertions, but attributes it all to the activity of one side of the brain or the other.
Ida, the negative channel, emanates and terminates on the left side and has greater control over the left half of the body. In contrast, pinjala – the positive channel – emanates and terminates on the right side and its influence is greater on the right side of the body. If there is a disturbance in the rhythm or cycle of breath, there is likely to be some imbalance in the whole body. Swara yoga explains how these two major energy pathways – ida and pinjala – can be updated and controlled by means of the breath, as to eventually lead to balance of the system.
Besides handling different intellectual functions, such as speech, language, and visualisation, the individual hemispheres of the brain are responsible for the experiencing of specific emotions, as well as our reactions to them.
Functional magnetic resonances (MRI) have been utilised in the study of brain activity and emotions. They have detected high brain activity in the left hemisphere of individuals reporting ‘positive’ feelings such as happiness, enthusiasm, high energy and alertness.
In contrast, these individuals showing more activity in the right hemisphere reported such ‘negative’ emotions so pessimism, dejections, low energy and under depression. Other experiment have also shown that if we purposefully change our emotions for example from sadness to happiness, the activities in the hemispheres change sides.
The practice swara yoga starts by first learning how to recognize which nadi and swara is functioning. When the flow of air is coming from the left nostril only, ida is active, and when the flow of air is from the right nostril, pingala is active. Swara yoga teaches us to work with (in accordance to) the dominant nostril, not only attempting to gain control on it. Once we come to understand the relationship between ourselves and our breath, we will be better equipped to master our lives – our intellect, emotions, behaviors and thought patterns.
Swara yoga allows us to visualize a world where everyone is in a state of balance, of harmony, and carries us to this place in reality. It is not magic or mysticism but a systematic process that works with our instinct nature to return us to a place of internal peace.
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