The Science Of Breath
THE SCIENCE OF BREATH
According to the ancient science of Svara Yoga the human body is an autonomous, self synchronous organism for experiencing life fully in the world. The body has precise mechanisms for synchronizing with the rhythmic cycles of the planet and the cosmos. The most important, easily regulated, and effective of these mechanisms are the two nostrils. Knowledge of the play of breath in the nostrils forms the basis of this ancient teaching. Yoga, even in its native India, has been among the most secret of teachings. However, in the last few decades, it has become more known and several scientists have verified some of its basic findings. In a review of the literature of this science, Shannahoff Khalsa stated: This article reviews the published basic science and clinical studies on unilateral forced nostril breathing (UFNB), a subset of yogic breathing (pranayam) techniques that were discovered/devised more than 5000 years ago. The relationship of UFNB to the ultradian physiological phenomenon called the nasal cycle, a marker of mind body states is also reviewed. Basic science studies show how UFNB can affect the autonomic nervous system, central nervous system (including cognition), and general metabolic activities. – Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine, 2001, Volume 12, Number 2.
The Divided Brain
In the form of the gray matter of the brain, electro-magnetic energy in the body reaches its greatest concentration and intensity. This organ, the brain, is divided into two distinct halves: the left and right hemispheres. Only on very rare occasions is energy equally distributed in both halves of the brain. Under normal conditions, electrical activity as manifested in the form of brainwaves is concentrated more in one hemisphere than the other. Recent observations by brain researchers show that each hemisphere is associated with uniquely characteristic forms of behavior and that these behaviors are normally present only when electrical activity centers in that hemisphere. When energy is concentrated in the left hemisphere, one becomes more active, verbal, intellectual, extroverted, creative, male and “solar”. Conversely, right hemisphere dominance is characterized by passivity, orientation to sight and sound, emotional responses, introversion, “femininity” and “lunar energy.” Only in rare moments is energy distributed equally. At these times awareness undergoes major changes, and one either becomes extremely tranquil or extremely agitated and disturbed. One’s whole nature of response changes according to the movement of energy from one hemisphere to the other. There are three readily discernible modes of operation: left hemisphere dominant, right hemisphere dominant, both hemispheres in balance. Perceptions, actions and even “involuntary bodily responses” vary according to these three modes.
BREATH AND THE BRAIN HEMISPHERES
Modern scientific research has shown that the nostrils tend to switch dominance roughly every 90 minutes throughout the day, and that nostril dominance is closely linked with cerebral dominance. Switching nostril dominance at will thus becomes a convenient way of controlling hemispheric dominance and thereby of altering our states of awareness and bodily states in a profound manner and with relatively little effort. It also offers us a means whereby we can synchronize our states of awareness and our bodily states with the rhythms of the cosmos.1 Interestingly, the relationship between the dominance of the brain hemispheres and nostril dominance has been noted by practitioners of Svar Yoga for centuries before the recent laboratory confirmation of this phenomenon. The nose, with its two nostrils, is the only bodily organ in continuous interplay with the external environment. The sleeping man, the unaware man, neither hears, touches, sees, tastes, nor smells. But he does breathe. Through the two nostrils the human organism draws in air and vital energy, in their most subtle and gross forms. Breath keeps man in continuous contact with the world. The importance of breath in maintaining life cannot be discounted. What is less well understood is the role of the nostrils themselves as other than conduits for the passage of air into the lungs. (Cf. Brain Mind Bulletin, Volume 3, Number 3, January 3, 1983).
On careful observation, one will notice that the breath does not come through both nostrils in equal volume, except for very brief periods and during moments of severe emotional disturbance. Normally, one breathes more through the dominantly open nostril. Careful, sustained observation will reveal further that the nostril which is dominant alternates every hour on average. The movement of energy from one hemisphere to the other occurs simultaneously with the change of breath from one nostril to the other. When the right nostril dominates, the left hemisphere dominates; when the left nostril dominates, so does the right hemisphere. When both nostrils operate, both hemispheres operate simultaneously. The simple act of changing the breath from one nostril to the other reverses brain hemisphere dominance, altering chemical reactions throughout the organism. Since various emotional states are the
product of body chemistry, changing body chemistry effects a change in feelings. Disease states are also the product of body chemistry. Changing the breath pattern by changing body chemistry may also prevent disease if done at the onset of symptoms.
BREATH AND THE LUNAR CYCLE
The Sun rules the day and is electrical and warm in nature. The Moon rules the night and is magnetic and cool. The right nostril is solar and the left nostril is lunar. Sun and Moon form the two poles of the day cycle, and correspond to the basic nature of each of the hemispheres and the two nostrils. Of the two forms of energy governing the planet, the Sun is the more constant, going through an energy cycle once every 365 ¼ days and never altogether absent during the day. Such is not the case with the Moon, however. Sometimes full and bright in the night sky, at other times not visible at all, the Moon waxes and wanes regularly in a 28 ½ day cycle and governs the tides of the oceans.
Similarly, the Moon affects that 70 percent of the human body weight which is water. Just as the tides reach their zenith on the night of the Full Moon, so too there is a high tide in the emotional lives of people. When the tides reach their lowest ebb with the coming of the Darkest Night, human emotional power is at its weakest. The human organism is continually seeking to draw from the environment what it needs to maintain an ideal condition of balance or homeostasis. Thus a person’s need for lunar energy increases as the moon wanes and decreases as the moon waxes. The greater need for lunar energy is satisfied by breathing predominantly through the left (lunar) nostril and the diminished need by breathing pre-dominantly through the right (solar) nostril. The cycle of the nostrils begins anew each fortnight with the coming of the Full or Dark Moon nights. Lunar energy peaks on the Full Moon night. The organism, having been exposed to this abundance of lunar energy, compensates by dominant right (solar) nostril breathing for the next three days during the hour following sunrise. Lunar energy reaches its minimum on the Dark Moon night and the organism compensates for this insufficiency with left (lunar) nostril dominance for the next three days during the hour following sunrise. These two celestial events mark the extremes of energy present on the planet.