Ancient science exists that can help one understand the deeper meaning in the cosmos by simply observing the patterning of one’s own breath. This traditional Indian Tantric science is known as Swara yoga, or ‘brain breathing’ and is an art form originally thought to be so valuable that it’s secrets of prophecy and health were only passed down from teacher to student orally. In today’s day, these ancient teachings are being revealed as it is believed that human kind has reached a crux in it’s evolutionary progress where it ‘needs all the help it can get.’
Translated as ‘the sound of one’s own breath’, Swara is the art and science of becoming finely in-tuned with the way in which the breath moves in the body, tracking it’s patterns, as well as the patterns in the cycles of nature and relating them. In this way, the breath becomes a microcosmic ‘revealer’ of the grander cosmos.
It is the association of the breath in relation to the activities or phases or positions of the sun, moon, planets, seasons, time of day, with the physical and mental conditions of the individual and then taking the appropriate action according to these subtle relations. For example, knowing the moon phases and checking the flow of your nostrils before you get out of bed in the morning and letting the corresponding foot be the first to touch the floor and make the first step, is a simple practice that ensures success in everything that happens for that day. The first foot to touch the ground will get the prevailing ‘successful’ flow of energy from the cosmos.
Whether you are a ‘spiritual person’ or not, it does not matter. Swara yoga enables anybody to discover truths pertaining to their individual reality and subsequently ‘awaken’ their whole being to these truths – as an embodied experience of higher expression. Some of the ‘methods’ of Swara may seem like superstition to some, but as the science is more deeply revealed it becomes clear as to why the practice works as it does – it is as if the whole being becomes a compass of universal widsom. Before this can be true, certain things must be understood about the body and the flow of breath.
The Way the Breath Flows
It is assumed that respiration takes place through both nostrils, but if one will observe the breath at any given time of day or night, one will notice that this is simply not so. We actually breathe in waves or patterns, generally for around 90 minutes through one nostril, 90 seconds from both and then 90 minutes through the other nostril. By observing the flow and location of breath, much can be told about the state of mind and energy available in the body.
If the right nostril is open and flowing with breath, this represents the active quality of ‘pingala’ or the solar force in the body. It shows the activity of the left brain hemisphere is ‘turned on’ and is the dynamic, logical force in the body. If, on the other hand, the left nostril is open and breath is moving freely through it alone – this means the quality of the moon – or ‘ida’ – is active and dominant in the body, the right hemisphere of the brain is stimulated and more intuitive, creative, feminine qualities are accessible.
If both nostrils are working together, meaning there is air running through both simultaneously, this clues one into full brain access, the flow of the neutral sushumna energy of the spine, and a more balanced meditative state in the mind. For swara to be comprehended, one must also understand the basics of prana, or the life force energy, which is said to ‘ride on the breath’, energizing the entire body. In fact, the practices of pranayama – basic to yoga – is the art of learning to control, store and redirect prana in the body- different from swara which instead analyzes rhythms of breath and so forth, for deeper knowledge to be revealed.
Deeper Purpose for Learning Swara
The above mentioned details are the stripped down basics for understanding the breath in yogic terms. Swara yoga goes much deeper – for example – as taken from Swami Muktibodhananda’s text Swara Yoga: The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing:
There are many techniques for controlling the swara so that during the day the left nostril remains active and prana moves in a particular direction. Or by making the prana flow through the right nostril during the night you can create another type of energy movement and stimulus, so that you can have a good sleep without tranquillizers, work the whole day without becoming fatigued, or you can digest food without taking appetizers or digestives. These are all different aspects of swara yoga.
In fact, if someone comes to you with a question which you cannot answer, you will be able to answer it correctly by studying the particular flow of the swara. Of course, you must be careful as you may make a wrong calculation if the breath is disturbed. But, just as an example, if the person who is questioning approaches from the side opposite to the flowing swara, the answer has to be no, and if he approaches on the side of the active swara, the answer has to be yes.
The benefits of helping out mundane, ordinary life, as exemplified above, are but ‘side-effects’ of swara yoga, just as a healthy body is a ‘side-effect’ of the true purpose of any yoga. The ultimate purpose is to enable any person to realize their truest potential and to live an authentic life expressing the purest essence of their being.
It is the philosophy of swara yoga that because breath is the one thing you cannot do without in this body, one’s most valuable treasure, that each and every breath does indeed carry with it an ‘underlying coded message’ or significance that one can learn to decipher.
The Three Swaras
As identified above, the breath can be flowing through either the left, right or both nostrils at any given time. By observing this, according to swara yoga, one can identify what other systems of the body are being affected, as each ‘swara’ is said to correspond to a different system.
First of all, the body is divided, for comprehension’s sake, into three aspects – what yoga terms chitta, prana and atma. Chitta can be translated as the mind, Prana – as the energy or life force, and Atma – as the individual spirit or soul. If you are not big into the ‘spiritual’ terminology, you can simply think of the ‘atma’ as the individual self. In swara, it is said that “Chitta controls the sensory nerves of eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin; Prana controls the five organs of action: speech, hands, feet, reproductive and urinary/excretory organs; Atma is the over-all witness of these.”
With these elements in mind, and through observation of the breath – the correlation is now drawn between the nostrils and the aspects. So, when the left nostril flows one knows that the mental aspect, or chitta, is dominant. When the right nostril is flowing, the pranic forces are strong and when both are active, the atma – or individual self, soul – is in the driver’s seat.
By observing, or learning to persuade the appropriate swara activity, one can correlate actions and daily activities to suit. For example, all physical activities are best performed with pranic flow active, in the right nostril- such as exercise, eating, digestion, taking care of the body – like using the bathroom or showering. Any mental activity, planning, memorizing, writing, thinking, etc. are all best done with an active chitta flow – in the left nostril. All things of a more ‘spiritual’ nature including sitting in stillness, like meditation, praying, deep contemplation of life situations and all ‘spiritual’ or self-directed action ought to be performed with atma swara – breath through both nostrils. Variations of these can cause disturbances in the particular activity in which you are involved.
Even Deeper Implications
We are merely scratching the surface of truly understanding the implications of practicing the ancient tantric science of brain breathing. In order to delve even deeper would take a whole book or more, and several can be found on the subject, namely the original text The Shiva Swarodaya as well as the one referenced above by Swami Mukitbodhananda. As one goes deeper into swara yoga it becomes important to familiarize oneself with basic knowledge of the energy systems in the body, as known in yogic and Tantric philosophy, namely the chakra system. Another area of wisdom which reveals the possibility to ‘prophecy’ possible outcomes based on understanding the basic electrical and magnetics of the body and how they respond to life- is understanding the tattwas – or specific elements with pranic and sound qualities.
The basic tattwas are recognized as earth, water, fire, air and ether. The texts of swara yoga explain correlating colors, sounds, chakras, mind attributes, body locations, planets, directions, body functions, type of prana and body types (or doshas) for each tattwa. As these things become familiar references, because they correspond in logical ways, the ‘mysteries’ of swara yoga begin to reveal themselves to the practitioner and cosmic wisdom is imparted.
Here is an example of tattwa correlations: The earth element has the quality of weight, the color yellow, correlates with smell, the body, and of the body – the thighs, the ego, the planet mercury, the direction east, the base root chakra, the skin, blood vessels and bones, the sound ‘Lam’ and it’s basic shape is the square. The fire element has the quality of ‘hot’, the color red, correlates with sight, the mind, the shoulder region, thought, the sun and mars, south, the navel chakra, appetite, thirst and sleep, the sound ‘Ram’, and it’s shape is a triangle. These may seem abstract now, but as one learns the ‘formula’ or language of swara, the patterns and messages become clear.
When deeply understood, swara yoga becomes a type of inner astrology, revealing to the practitioner what would seem to be ‘prophetic’ events – due to the logical understanding of the body system and how is playing out through the breath.
The flow of prana within the body is affected to various degrees by the external environment and the energy flow in other people. You know what happens when you put two opposite poles of a magnet together, or place the same poles end to end, or put many magnets together side by side, and then bring a metallic object within close range. The result of the interaction depends on the magnetic properties of the interacting objects and the strength of their magnetism.
Similarly, by knowing the active pranic flow or tattwa in the body, you can estimate what is going to happen when you are in particular situations because the magnet-like properties of the tattwas depend on the external environment. It is like seeing a shadow; you know it is created by an object, or when there is smoke, you know there is a fire or when it rains, there must be clouds. Similarly, through swara yoga you can know the outcome of events in the past, present or future through the interaction of the pranas and tattwas.
Simple uses for Swara in every day life
With the left nostril active – chitta swara- it is best to engage in the following practices:
- drinking water
- getting out of bed
- calm, silent work, creativity
- buying jewelry
- beginning a long journey
- planting seeds
- women to have sex
- taking medicine
- singing or playing music and composing music
- religious practices, ceremonies, initiations, marriage
- settling disagreements
- helping others
When the right nostril – prana swara- is active it is best to engage in:
- hard work/physical activity
- eating/drinking alcohol/evacuating
- heroic feats, risky/challenging adventures
- men to have sex
- men to attract women
- intellectual study/mathematics
- riding motor bikes and horses
- buying and selling
When breath is in both nostrils – atma swara – it is best to:
- sit in stillness
- activities with minimal exertion or attention
- yoga or spiritual practices
- nothing to do with money, success or profit – or it can be ruined
You can start your day beneficially by checking the swara before getting out of bed. Step out of bed with the foot correlating to the active swara for a ‘lucky’ day. It is recommended to shower with the right nostril active and to start work with the left nostril active. If you have conflict with someone, approach them with the same foot as your active swara for best results in your interaction. And when accepting or offering something, do so with the same hand as your active nostril, or swara.
Whether you are interested in simply optimizing your daily performance, saving energy and regulating your body systems so you are feeling the healthiest and happiest possible, or you are really interested in uncovering deeper truths within the self, swara yoga could be the key. The Indian art of brain breathing is an amazingly detailed and ancient Tantric science which can be implemented for prophecy, personal health, empowerment and inner wisdom.
Written by: Stasia Bliss