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Ida, Pingala, and the Breath

By Ian Kennedy

woman breathing using Nadi Shuddhi technique

Breath, pulse, heartbeat, body temperature and response to stimuli, are the tell-tale signs of living. If these five indicators are functioning and

on, we say that we live, if they are absent or off, we consider the body to

be lifeless or dead.

Breathing perhaps more than any other function shows the interconnectedness of breath and the different aspects of who we are as living beings. What we think, experience, and how we feel all engage breathing regardless of our awareness of it being so.

What Is Breath?

There are many schools of thought when it comes to breath work. Breath is somatic, meaning it comes from the body. Breathing is both automatic and can also be consciously controlled. Breathing supplies the cells of the body with energy through the removal of carbon dioxide and the uptake of oxygen, and this is not the only function of breathing.

Breath as Meditation

Controlling the breath in many classical civilizations was a way of developing a deeper awareness of the mystical aspects of life and is always part of any meditative processes. Simply noticing and following one’s natural breath and the certainty of one's being in the

present is foundational to meditativeness. Speaking, chanting, and singing also require a level of breath control. Breath has always been linked to meditative states with some devotees of yoga having acquired a high level of control over their breath leading to extreme control over body function, mind control, and emotional regulation. Today breath classes have become common in many yoga and meditation classes and can be helpful in de-stressing from the pressure cooker that is our modern world.

The Wim Hof Method of Breathing

Wim Hof, a well-known teacher who has mastered and utilized traditional Tibetan breath and meditation techniques to formulate his Wim Hof method has brought these techniques into an easily understood systematic method. The primary goal within his method is to create mental strength and physical endurance under stressful conditions such as exposure to extreme cold. His technique is to manifest heightened oxygen levels in the body that can unlock many physiological and psychological benefits.

Wim, known as the “Iceman” is an extreme athlete and motivational speaker noted for his ability to withstand low temperatures over long periods of time. He previously held a Guinness World Record for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and he still holds a record for a barefoot half marathon, covering 13.1miles on ice and snow. He attributes these feats to his method, a combination of frequent cold exposure, breathing techniques and mind control through meditation. His technique has been scientifically studied with mixed results, with some people able to master it and others unable to. That is not unexpected since mastery over anything depends on the individual's practice and willingness to engage consistently.

Breathing Versus Conscious Breath Control

As adults we inhale around 2,600 gallons of air every day, most of which is done without our need to consciously think about it. Our heart rate and pulse quicken under stress and the body and mind instantly responds to consciously controlling our breath, which can then help reduce heart rate and pulse.

Events of heightened emotions such as fear or excitement change our breathing to match the expectations to any given experience. These emotional responses quicken our breathing, pulse, heart rate and affect our body temperature all with the intention of supplying more oxygen to the muscles and brain to infuse more potential power to the body in preparation derived from the sympathetic response of the fight, flight or freeze.

Bottom line, it takes very little stress to change breathing patterns. Breathing is different however than breath control and, when we consciously take control over our inhalation and exhalation even with simple awareness of breath, we can begin to see that a greater authority over the body and mind is attainable.

Breath - The Carrier of Prana

Breath, however, is more than taking air into the lungs. It is also the carrier of prana. Prana in yoga, Ayurveda, and martial arts traditions is drawing life energy carried by the breath into the body beyond its need for oxygen.

Prana in Hindu literature is described as originating from the sun and connecting the five primary elements of earth, fire, water, space, and air together thus manifesting all material into reality. There are ten types of prana, with five being the most practiced, collectively known as the five values, or prana vayus. Ayurveda, tantra, and Tibetan medicine all describe prana vayu as the basic energy that manifests all things and all living beings. The word prana is Sanskrit, and its definition includes breath or respiration, the breath of life, vital air, and the principle of life and the subtle body energy. This vital energy is in

constant movement throughout the body through the movement of breath.

Nadis: Pathways for Prana Distribution

With prana taken into the body it is then transported throughout the system via what is termed Nadis. The Nadis of the body are pathways much akin to acupuncture meridians. The two primary Nadis or energy centers within the body are named; ida and pingala.

Pingala is centered in the area of the sternum with ida being centered below the belly button. Each runs lines of energy vertically up and down the body delivering their respective energies to the other major chakras, or energy vortexes and organs in the body. Ida and pingala branch outward creating 32,000 pathways from ida, and 32,000 pathways from pingala. It is these gentle flowing energy pathways which carry prana, life force

throughout the entirety of the body.

Understanding Ida: The Feminine Energy Pathway

Ida relates to the feminine aspect of life’s energy. Ida is dominated by the night and the celestial body the moon. The moon with its 30-day cycle and its many phases from full to new encompasses the power of ida and has control over birth, the suppleness of water and its power to flow and nourish. Ida is compassion, genteelness, yielding, communication, and the focus of being. These can all be attributed to the aspects of ida.

Exploring Pingala: The Masculine Energy Pathway

Pingala relates to masculine energy. Its celestial body is the sun with its 12 year cycle. Some principal aspects of pingala are steadiness, firmness, stability, unchanging, and the external action of doing. The sun is always the same in the sky, rising in the east, traversing the sky, and setting in the west. Pingala is forceful, and though it inspires growth and warmth it can also be overpowering with its heat and light.

Balancing Ida and Pingala

The sun rules the day and the moon rules the night. Both supporting the other into their respected reality.

Ida invites rest, reflection, and change. The sun encourages the action

of doing.

A balancing of these two forces through the controlling of the breath is said to build a storehouse of vital energy within the body and a balance between each that the devotee can then utilize for health, wellbeing, as well as physical and mystical power.

In the daytime for instance, it is suggested that the left nostril associated with ida, should be clear of any obstructions since this is the feminine and moon channel assisting in the balance of the energy of the Sun that is prominent in the day. At night, the right nostril

connected to pingala should be open and clear as it is the channel of the sun and balances the energy of the moon that is dominant at night.

The Nadi Shuddhi Technique

By accessing ida and pingala through breath one can engage in the technique known as Nadi Shuddhi. Nadi Shuddhi literally means to cleanse and open the Nadis or the pathways of energy within the body.

Nadi Shuddhi is an ancient method of alternate nostril breath control and is best performed slowly and purposely.

1. Sit conformably on the floor with legs crossed. If this is not possible one can sit in a chair without utilizing the back of the chair for support. Feet should be flat on the floor and the left

hand resting in the lap.

2. Start by blocking the left nostril with the ring finger and inhale slowly through the right nostril, about ten percent more than natural breath.

3. Once the breath has been taken in, gently exhale fully.

4. Then using the thumb block the right nostril and fully inhale and

exhale through the left nostril.

5. Repeat this alternation for five minutes at first and with practice and time one should conferrable extend the sessions.

6. Always end each season with the right nostril being blocked and the left nostril taking the last inhale and exhale.

7. Slowly open your eyes and allow for the normal breathing pattern

of the body to be regained.

This technique will cleanse the channels of ida and pingala and the Nadis and allow for a freer flow of prana throughout the energy system of the body. It has the capacity to develop a sense of peace in the mind, stability in the body, and steadiness of our emotions. Nadi Shuddhi is a marvelous method for inducing meditativeness and gives the novice something to do instead of simply sitting in stillness.

For the accomplished meditator, Nadi Shuddhi is a powerful addition to any practice and will enhance one’s meditative ability and develop a deeper presence of awareness and sense of consecutiveness with the supreme reality of being.

Ian Kennedy, Founder of True Wellness

Ian Kennedy, True Wellness


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