written by Shai Tubali
Before entering the theoretical part of this article, I’d like invite you to the a brief practice. For those among you who have practised yoga, it is a very common one, yet placed in a broader context it might surprise you. The practice is called “Nadi shodhana”.
Nadi shodhana is a basic type of pranayama – a practice of controlling or manipulating our breathing. In this specific one, the manipulation is an alternate nostril breathing. This means that we are going to experiment with blocking one of our nostrils each time, thus forcing the breathing process to move through only one of the nostrils. The reason for doing that – as well as the reason for the extremely quick balancing and calming effect of this practice – is what this article is all about.
You only need your right hand for this practice. Fold the tips of the index and middle fingers inward until they touch the palm at the base of the right thumb. Align the length of the ring and pinky fingers on the right hand. During this practice, you will alternately use the right thumb to close the right nostril and the right ring and pinky fingers (together) to close the left nostril.
First, prepare yourself for the practice.
Close your eyes and without blocking anything yet, inhale and exhale as equally as possible through both nostrils, as if the air is coming in in the exact quantity and is also coming out in the exact quantity. While doing it, pay attention whether either the right or left nostrils are more closed or more open. Perhaps you will find the right or left nostril more available, or realize that it is actually more difficult to allow the air into and out of it. Whatever is the case, this is what we intend to fix through this type of Pranayama.
When your breath feels full, natural, relaxed, and open, take one long, deep inhalation and then use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Exhale gently, but fully, through the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril and deep into the belly. As you inhale, allow the breath to travel upward along the left side of the spine. Next, use the ring and pinky fingers of the right hand to gently close the left nostril and simultaneously release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, surrendering the breath down the right side of the body. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation.
Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale once again through the right nostril, drawing the breath back up from the pelvic floor, along the right side of the spine. Then again, use the right thumb to close the right nostril as you release the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril, surrendering the breath back down the left side of the body. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation.
This completes one round of Nadi Shodhana. The same pattern continues for each additional round: inhale through the left nostril, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, exhale through the left nostril. Repeat this alternating pattern for several more rounds, focusing your awareness on the pathway of the breath – up one side of the body and back down the other side of the body. Even as little as five minutes can be rewarding, but practicing for ten to fifteen minutes offers deeper benefits.
It is important that the breath remain slow, gentle, fluid, and relaxed throughout the practice. Slowly and gently bring each inhalation and exhalation to its maximal limit. You don’t need to do it too audibly, but rather in a silent and soft manner. Relax into this process. Relax your jaws, face, and forehead, while entering an automatic movement. Feel like with every time you are doing it, you are supporting the unblocking of the nostril that you found before more closed than the other.
Near the end of your practice, complete your final round with an exhalation through the left nostril. Relax your right hand and place it comfortably in your lap as you take several full breaths. Now move your entire attention to the area of the sixth chakra: the meeting point between the two eyebrows. Explore what has happened to your mind as a result of this equalization of the nostrils. Then, for the last time breathe equally through the nostrils and come out of the practice.
The more we get into the rhythm of this simple practice and unite with it, the more we realize that this practice is one of our most immediate gateways to relaxation and centeredness. Energetically speaking, we are shifting from right to left, and from left to right, until we eventually land in the sixth chakra, which is also physically, the center. We are moving beyond the two opposites into the middle point.
It is easy to experience that our brain and nervous system have reached balance and mental stillness. The question is: why? How come that playing with our nostrils a bit for five minutes dissolves our mental turmoil and brings about a general sense of well-being and integrity in our body-mind system?
The red and the blue inside us
Here we are going to meet a new aspect of subtle-health medicine: being centred as a vital ingredient of physical health. This centering should take place in relation to our two sides or halves. Interestingly, this principle is rarely used in the way we understand the body, while it really holds in it an overwhelming amount of wisdom and insight. Sometimes we get in touch with this reality, when we experience that our physical symptoms tend to concentrate more on one side of our body – that our migraine is worse on the right side of the forehead, or that our lower back pain is focused on the left side. These are all meaningful signs, and not just random biases. They reflect a deep truth about our specific psychological state during that time.
From a medical and anatomical perspective, right and left seem to have no meaning. Even Chiropractic, which needs to respond daily to these physical biases, does not consider the deeper implications of right and left. The yogic system, however, contains a profound insight into this phenomenon.
Around the sushumna – the central nerve-like column of our subtle anatomy – two highly significant columns intertwine in a snake-like movement. Together with the Sushumna, they constitute the three major columns of the entire subtle nervous system – the most important three out of 72,000! These columns are called “pingala” and “ida”. Each of the two moves along the sushumna beginning at the level of the perineum on one side and ending at the level of the third eye on the very same side. Ida, characterized by the color blue, begins and ends on the left side, and pingala, characterized by the color red, begins and ends on the right side. Eventually, the two meet in the third eye, or sixth chakra – and that is why we ended our breathing practice there. Nadi Shodhana is therefore a practice that aims to equalize these two nerve-like columns of our subtle body. Equalized through breathing, they meet each other in a balanced way, which promotes silence, peace, and a general well-being.
To explain why and how, we first need to understand the world of each. Pingala governs the right side, with all the implications of the right side – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Pingala is related to the sun and represents the solar energy. It is essentially masculine (not be confused with ‘male’ or ‘female’, since all of us need Pingala and Ida in an equal measure within our being), which means: active by nature. It is connected to all outgoing activities in our life. Whenever you need to be engaged in an activity, and to give shape to your reality in the visible world, you draw your energy from this column. It is also related to our conscious mind, as well as to our analytical and rational mind. Since Pingala is ‘red’ – fiery and heated – it is deeply connected to ambition and willpower. When we feel overheated in our body or emotional system, this naturally means that pingala is in excess.
On the other hand, we have Ida, which is associated with the moon, coolness, and darkness. Its energetic essence is feminine: it is passive and calm, connected to our unconscious and hidden inner worlds, and unlike the mental pingala, it is emotional by nature.
At each point in time, just like our constantly closing and opening nostrils, one of the two governs our system more, sometimes creating an excess and sometimes, a deficiency. The ability to balance our system using this principle is a tremendous key. In my own private sessions of healing and balancing, I apply this key as one of my main tools of observation. When I meet a person who is physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually unwell, I always check if there is an excess or a deficiency on either the right side or the left side. As soon as I correct this imbalance, and the individual becomes centered, the system greatly improves.
Don’t stray from the highway!
Pingala is directly linked to life’s fire, passion, and energy. As the one that sustains all outgoing activities, it is related to involvement, action, reaction, and our own initiative. It is proactive and includes our capacity to change and influence. Now, could you imagine what happens when these tendencies become excessive and begin to overflow in your system?
Such an excess might have different expressions. It can make us feel intensely desirous, or over-ambitious. We might want too strongly and start pushing and stressing ourselves as well as our environment. We obviously could become angry, since anger is the emotional form of being overheated – just think of the experience of “fuming”! We might also become over-controlling towards ourselves or our surroundings. We begin to overthink, draining our mental capacities, or to over-act, being unable to sit and relax and becoming obsessed with activity. Of course, we physically might become overheated, with hot flashes, sweat, inflammation, or burning sensations.
Obviously, when you notice any of these symptoms, you can tell that your Pinagala is in excess and so, you need to amplify and strengthen the Ida at the expense of Pingala. In such a case, strengthening Ida can help you to attain physical health and at the same time, emotional and mental balance. Remember that in the subtle world, the mental, emotional, and physical are always one line of balance or imbalance.
Ida, on the other hand, is connected to our introverted world and inner life. It is associated with silence, meditation, relaxation, and non-thinking; when we are drawn to relax our being and to become non-active. Ida is also connected to receptivity and acceptance. It is the cooling and soothing energy in our system, and it is energised when we cease busying ourselves with outgoing activities and choose to value and focus on inner qualities and inclinations. For instance, enjoyment in the moment, appreciating what we already have, and satisfaction, are all Ida values.
When Ida becomes excessive, a long list of physical, mental and emotional imbalances expects us. Fear, anxiety, the wish to hide away in some dark corner and to avoid becoming visible, are all possible symptoms. Since we become over-identified with our hidden part, we want nobody to notice us and wish to disappear. We can experience sleeplessness or nightmares, because Ida is the governor of darkness and night, and when it is agitated, we can’t relax into a restful sleep.
In Ida imbalance, we might feel unable to act and react, since we are overly drawn to the passive aspect of life. We might also feel overpressured by everything, hypersensitive, vulnerable, and fearful of expressing ourselves. Physically, we might be profoundly weak, fragile, exhausted, drained, and even lethargic.
Of course, these very symptoms can be the result of excessive Pingala. Pingala can drive us to a burnout, since we have exhausted our entire energy reservoirs with outgoing activities. The outcome, in such a case, would be that we find ourselves thrown to the other side of Ida, not wanting to do anything anymore, and responding to the slightest pressure with symptoms that resemble a nervous breakdown. For this reason, we need to study our own case carefully to detect which side is responsible for our illness and pain.
How to balance Ida and Pingala
If you prefer any of the sides, you are already in trouble. A truly balanced human activates both sides as equally as possible. In fact, even mere appreciation of the fact that both are as important could change our way of life for the better. Such an approach is, therefore, a first vital step towards balance. On the other hand, so long as we remain one-sided, we easily and constantly develop excesses or deficiencies (Pingala is more connected to excess and overflow, whereas Ida is associated with deficiency and lack).
We can also think of these two as the embodiment of the wisdom of life: such wisdom tells us to never move to one of the extremes too much. We do tend to move to one of the extremes almost always. We are almost always either overactive or not active enough; either pushing too strongly or letting go completely; either overly analytical or completely emotional; either accepting life or resisting everything and trying to change all the time. In the spiritual world, we are mainly taught to accept everything, to relax, love, embrace, and never judge. Such a biased approach, however, is very far from life’s wisdom, which guides us to sometimes accept, refrain from judgment, love, avoid struggle, and go with the flow – and sometimes to go against the stream, change our reality with all our power, become completely proactive and even, God forbid, dare to be critical.
I find this too often in spiritual people who come to me for chakra balancing. This tendency to overemphasize only a half of their complete being results in imbalances of Ida. Their symptoms are almost always related to oversensitivity, fragility, or exhaustion. They can’t act anymore, and they feel unable to respond to life’s pressures, so they begin to hide within themselves, preferring the inner world over the “violent” world out there. They may also suffer from extreme indecisiveness, confused thinking, and a lack of inner strength in their solar plexus chakra. Life’s wisdom is not only “spiritual” in this sense. If it had been spiritual, we should have experienced a perfect balance when choosing to focus on Ida worldview and lifestyle. But real life tells us that we need meditation just as we require action, and that we need to be involved just as we need to be sufficiently detached.
This play of opposites of Pingala and Ida conveys a clear message: go to your center. They themselves tell us that the truth of life is never in any of them. Just like the pingala and the ida, so too our being as a whole is intertwined around this truth of the perfect middle-point. We all intuitively recognize that being centered within ourselves is directly linked to peace of mind. It implies remaining unshaken, deeply connected, inwardly silent yet capable of responding from our core. And that is why Nadi Shodhana gives us peace: it is the peace that comes as a result of the fusion of the red and the blue energies into one.
Now, more specifically, the best practice for Ida enhancing and Pingala relieving is by sitting in a completely dark room, or at least as dark as possible. I call it, “dark room therapy”. After you block any type of light, sit with your eyes open and let the darkness penetrate your body and being. This is one of the most calming practices, because it effortlessly causes Ida to awaken. More generally, any type of meditation – as long as it is done not out of over-ambition but rather out of joy – enhances Ida. Breathing exercises of the calming type could help a lot. If you realize that you have too much of the right side, cultivate more values of acceptance, appreciation, and non-judgment. Relaxation and enjoyment are also vital ingredients; making sure that you enjoy on a daily basis and learning to sometimes flow carelessly in life, and not only to work, achieve and struggle. Going on a silent retreat, or even a day of silence, is an amazing Ida enhancer too, and also making sure that our sleep is good and sufficient. If pingala excess is severe, it is recommended to consume calming herbs and supplements – even drinking a lot of lemon could effectively cool down pingala’s fire.
A lack of Pingala, on the other hand, can be corrected by being more proactive: instead of just waiting for life’s blows, strive to define and to know what you want. Setting goals, having plans and making clear decisions is important in this context, since when Ida takes over we grow hesitant and cautious, frail and fearful, and avoid taking some healthy risks. In this we should include learning to say “no” and to set necessary boundaries. Cultivating self-discipline, arranging our day and increasing control over habits, are ways to strengthen pingala. Empowering physical activities, whether aerobic or muscle-strengthening, could help us to feel stronger on the right side. It is wise to engage in activities that compel us to concentrate, in order to make some mental effort, rather than just letting our attention become over-relaxed and scattered. Using stimulating herbs and supplements, such as ginger, ashwagandha, ginseng, and cayenne, could support too.
Pingala and Ida in each chakra
This is not a well-known point about chakras: because the Pingala and the Ida cross our seven chakras and intersect in them, they create the phenomenon of two halves for each chakra. This causes the individual chakras too to also have a red right side and a blue left side. In this way, we can find Pingala and Ida imbalances within our chakras – another important key for self-understanding and self-balancing.
The first chakra is all about our search for stability and home. Accordingly, its right side is all about engaging actively and with much determination in creating a home for ourselves; succeeding in establishing a stability in our life, and taking the steps needed to belong and to find a certain place for us on earth. The left side of the first chakra is connected to feeling of belonging and to the psychological challenge of agreeing to come out to the world and saying “yes” to life. Many people have the Ida element of the first chakra conflicted. It reflects the part in them that, sometimes in response to traumas, doesn’t really want to come out and prefers to remain in the “dark”.
The right side of our second chakra is all about actively desiring and pursuing life’s experiences. It is the part in us that seeks out experiences and adventures and wants to be engaged and participate in life; the part that expresses passion and actively wishes to go through life, including its dangers and overwhelming elements. When the right side is in excess, it develops desires, addictions, and intense egoism – thinking only of one’s own pleasure. The left side is connected to the feeling of being either worthy or unworthy of happiness in this life; the feeling that we deserve to experience life’s pleasures and joys. When we feel unworthy, the left side is filled with guilt, shame, and the general feeling of not being good enough. Obviously, when we feel that we are not even allowed to fully experience, we are prone to withdrawal and depression, which are also typical of the unbalanced left side of this chakra.
Solar plexus Chakra:
The right side is all about ambition, power, achievement, pushing things forward and willpower. When this side of our third chakra is excessive, we become angry, forceful, controlling, fighting, and pushing too hard. We feel that everything depends on us and that we can influence and shape everything; we are basically masters of the universe! That is why whoever and whatever stands in our way, we strive to force it into our own wish. We also begin to over-focus on our own individuality and will, which can make us pretty uncaring and arrogant. The left side of the third chakra is connected to inner power and to the feeling that we can let go of external power. It is also connected to how much we feel we can actually influence life’s circumstances. Do we have at all power to change our fate? When I meet people with a weakness on the left side of this chakra, they always feel powerless and helpless, as if life is happening to them and they are its victim.
The right side of the fourth chakra is directly connected to our emotional reason to live and to our deep motivation for everything we do. It is also linked to the part we assume in the world, our “service” – what we can actively give to the world. It is therefore the place in us where we define our life’s meaning and purpose. Since it also includes our sense of responsibility for others, when it is in excess, we find ourselves giving too much, sometimes even on the verge of draining ourselves completely. We feel an overload of responsibility, that everything lies on our shoulders, and that is why we sometimes have pressure in our chest or stiffness in our shoulders. The left side of the heart is connected to acceptance, including self-acceptance and self-love. It contains the issue of feeling loved, recognized, appreciated, and being able to receive love and to really let it in. It is also connected to attachment and over-attachment and to the ability or inability to let go. It also holds within it the connection with our deeper soul and deeper self. When the left side is in deficiency, we may feel unloved, experience self-hatred, have unrealistic expectations from others and corresponding disappointments, cling and fear being abandoned, and also feel unable to receive. Our receptive part becomes blocked precisely because we want too much.
The right side of the fifth chakra is all about expression and manifestation; the capacity to create our reality in the world, and the direction we give to our life. It is connected to the process of making ourselves visible: what we show to other people, and whether we come out clearly and authentically. In excess, our expression overflows, causing us to become talkative and inattentive. We try to influence others forcefully, almost like missionaries, and stop listening to anyone. We just want to speak out ourselves and we do not learn from others. Our left side is all about receiving others’ voices and being influenced. It is connected to the quality of listening – knowing when to become quiet and to accept, or at least contain, others’ opinions and voices. When it is in deficiency, we are over-influenced: everything enters us and we feel that we have no voice. We hide within our inner world and are mainly talked to; we seek advice all the time because we depend on what more convinced others have to say. Whatever we try to express, comes out completely confused and unclear. We are unable to manifest anything. Even if we have great ideas, when trying to realize them, we feel as if we lack the energy to do so.
Third eye Chakra:
The third eye is the last chakra, since the Pingala and the Ida end their journey in it. The right side is our analytical mind, which is connected to the thinking capacity: our opinions and judgments, worldviews and the knowledge we acquire. In it we form our own perception of the world. When in excess, we over-think, trying to analyze and to control through our rational mind and becoming highly calculative. The left side is connected to silence and meditation; being able to observe and to allow a space for watching and containing without conclusion or reaction. Obviously, the whole of humanity suffers from a lack of Ida of the third eye! On the other hand, when Ida takes over, the individual quickly reaches a state of confusion. In such a condition one is not opinionated enough and so suffers from unclarity and the feeling of a scattered mind – the difficulty to arrange one’s thoughts. Ida imbalance means that we don’t know how to choose out of our many thoughts and that our mind becomes full of contradictions. Sometimes the left-sided mind might become filled with worries, as a result of being unable to grasp impressions and to distinguish true from false. Here, too, life’s wisdom tells us that we shouldn’t that feel we know too much or know nothing. We know, yet leave enough space for not knowing. That’s the quality of a balanced mind.