How to Do Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril

One of the central practices of yoga is pranayama. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term meaning "energy expansion", though it is often taken to mean "breath control". By using different breathing techniques, we can learn to increase and consciously direct our prana, or life energy. This can give us many health benefits, as well as mental clarity, stress relief, and much more. Ultimately, pranayama assists with meditation and can be a powerful tool for bringing us to higher states of consciousness.

A simple but powerful pranayama technique is nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. There is a great deal to be said about this technique and its relation to kundalini energy, nadis (energy channels), and more, but that is for another post. For the sake of simplicity, it's enough to understand that there are two major energy channels known as ida and pingala which are associated with the left and right nostrils, respectively, and the two hemispheres of the brain. Through the course of the day, we tend to take in more oxygen through one nostril than the other, and thus one or the other of our brain hemispheres becomes more active. By consciously taking air in through each nostril separately, we cleanse these energy channels and balance the flow of oxygen to the brain. This allows us to function better and brings an immediate sense of calm and tension relief.

To do this technique, sit in any comfortable position (cross-legged or in lotus pose is best, if possible). Make sure your spine is straight. Take your right hand and fold your first two fingers over. This will leave your thumb and ring finger (with pinky) extended. Take your right hand to your nose and cover your right nostril with your thumb. Breathe in deeply through your left nostril. Then rock your hand so your ring finger closes your left nostril and your thumb releases the right, and breathe out through the right nostril. Breathe in through the right nostril, then cover it again and breathe out through the left nostril. This is one complete cycle or round. Continue this process, switching on each exhale breath.

Do this for at least five cycles. As you get used to the technique, you can increase this to ten cycles or more (the more time you spend with this and the more cycles you do, the greater the benefit). When you're done, remove your hand from your nose and breathe deeply through both nostrils. If you like, you can move directly into meditation from here. You will find that this simple technique is very effective at calming the mind and body, and that it brings a sense of peace, grounding, and centeredness. It can be done on its own or at the beginning or end of a yoga session.

Alternate nostril breathing is just one of many pranayama techniques, and it has many variations as well. In future blog posts, we will explore other techniques and their benefit. Thank you for reading, and namaste.


The Journey of the Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

The lotus flower is a powerful image in yoga, symbolizing perfection and purity. It is associated with concepts of transcendence and enlightenment. The god Brahma is said to have been born out of a lotus flower which springs from the navel of Lord Vishnu. The lotus is also connected to Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity. In Buddhism, several different colors of lotus are used to represent different spiritual states. The lotus pose is probably the most iconic posture in yoga, and carries with it great serenity and bliss.

So what is it about the lotus that makes it so special? It is truly a beautiful flower, but there are many different kinds of beautiful flowers in the world. Why is spiritual attainment not represented by a rose, or an iris, or a lily? To answer this, we need to trace the lotus to its roots.

The lotus grows in swamps and ponds. It roots into the soil at the bottom of the water, and then the shoot starts to climb towards the surface and the nurturing light of the sun. The lotus is constantly surrounded by muck and stagnancy, but it is patient, and always seeking the light. It spends a long time growing in this dark and dirty environment. When it finally grows tall enough to poke through the surface, the petals open into the glorious flower we know so well. Once it blooms, the lotus continues reaching for the sun, and keeps its petals out of the darkness, which gave it life and still sustains it, but does not damage its purity or its loveliness.

The lotus is such a powerful symbol precisely because of its humble beginnings. It doesn't need a perfect environment to attain its highest nature. Rather, the hardship of its environment has been the medium for its growth. And so it is in our own lives. Too much ease and idleness can leave us weak and unclear, but the difficulty that comes from immersing ourselves fully in the dirty world can give us lessons and opportunities for growth which allow us to bloom into the best versions of ourselves.

The next time you see a lotus, or the image of some Hindu or Buddhist character sitting on one, recognize that its beauty is only possible because of what we may normally consider ugly. We can't help being wrapped up in the world, and sometimes the daily struggle of life feels very remote from any spiritual growth. But if we keep our heads up, and keep moving towards the light, we allow ourselves the capacity to one day burst through the surface of the water, and find full flower in the glory of golden sunlight. May we all reach that place, in our own individual ways.

Om mani padme hum.


A Story About Hanuman, the "Mystic Monkey"


Here's a story about Hanuman, the Hindu monkey hero who Mystic Monkey Yoga is named after.

Anjaneya was the son of Anjana and the wind god Vayu, meaning he was half-god. He had many great powers. One day, while still a child, Anjaneya saw what looked like a giant mango in the sky. He loved mangoes (who doesn't?), so he used his superhuman abilities to jump into the sky and try to grab it. The problem is that the mango was not a mango at all, but the sun! To protect the sun, the god Surya shot a lightning bolt which hit Anjaneya in the jaw and knocked him to the ground, killing him.

Vaya found out his son had been killed and became very angry. He took a giant breath which sucked up all the air in the world, and everything living began to suffocate. Vaya refused to exhale until his son was revived.

The other gods agreed to revive Anjaneya, but cursed him by making him forgetful of his godly powers, so he wouldn't abuse them again. The boy was renamed Hanuman, and he was given the body of a monkey to begin his new life. Later, he would often perform amazing feats, but others had to remind him to use his powers, and he forgot about them again soon after.

Just like Hanuman, we all tend to forget our divine nature and underestimate ourselves. Sometimes this is for our own good. Often, though, we have lost track of our true nature, and this forgetfulness causes us to lead our lives in small ways, instead of rising to our full capacity and tapping into that divine source of strength and wisdom that we all have within us.

Let's work to rekindle that magic in each other, and when we see that our loved ones have lost track, let's remind them of their miraculous nature, as often as needed. We have to do it together.

See you at Mystic Monkey Yoga in June!