A student asked the Indian poet Kabir, “Kabir, where is God?” He answered, “God is the breath within the breath.”
Yoga Breathing or Pranayama, is the foundation of any yoga practice. This breath flows from two channels running alongside the central spine, sushymna nadi. Ida refers to the chandra, yin, energies of the moon while pingala refers to the surya, yang energies of the sun. Bringing ida and pingala into equilibrium is the major focus of the hatha yoga that I practice.
Ida begins at the base of the spine and rises up switching sides at each chakra, until climbing over the head, down the forehead, ending in the left nostril. Pingala runs similarly but begins on the right side and ends in the right nostril. Together they form a caduceus, two snakes spiraling their way around the sushumna nadi. The interaction between ida and pingala corresponds to the internal dance between intuition and rationality, consciousness and vital power, and right and left brain hemispheres.
The most powerful method of balancing ida and pingala is alternate-nostril breathing, nadi shodhana. To practice, sit in a comfortable meditative position. Make a fist with your right hand; partially extend your ring and little fingers. Lightly place the pad of the thumb on your nose just to the right and below the bridge; lightly place the pads of your ring and little fingers on the corresponding flesh on the left side of your nose. Gently pressing with the ring and little fingers to close the left nostril, exhale fully through the right. Then inhale fully through the right, close it with the thumb, release the left nostril, and exhale through it. Inhale through the left nostril, close it with the fingers, release the right nostril, and exhale through it.
In addition to using alternate-nostril breathing, you can use asanas to balance ida and pingala. At the beginning of practice, sit and observe your breath to see which nostril is dominant. If the left nostril dominates, ida is in charge, and you might consider focusing your attention on invigorating asana, such as backbends, standing poses, inversions, and twists, to engage the pingala nadi. If the right nostril dominates, the cooling, calming energy of seated poses and forward bends might be most beneficial.
As you become more seasoned with your breathing and begin to follow your breath through the twists and turns of your day, I guarantee you will have more awareness of your state of being and for sure, that’s a good thing!