Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Which Nostril Are You?

Gently press down on your left nostril and breathe from the right. Now, press down on your right nostril and breathe in and out of left. Do you feel the difference in the way air flows through each of the nostril? Which nostril feels more open? …

An hour and half later, check again.

85% of all people breath from one nostril at a given time. Some have the non-functioning nostril completely blocked. Most feel a slight congestion in one nostril. Some feel both nostrils are open, but one is more open than the other.

The interesting thing is, the predominant nostril is not constant. Every 60 or 100 minutes the predominant nostril alternates. If the left was dominant earlier, now the right will be dominant. Also you may observe that during the alternating phase, the breath flows through both nostrils.

The ancient Yogis’ were aware of this. They studied the effect of breath through each nostril. They found that the nostril you breathe from effects you physically, mentally and even spiritually. They realized that through the awareness of flow of breath it is possible to attain enlightenment. This knowledge and path, is called Swara Yoga.

The word Swara means "the sound of one's own breath" and yoga means "union". Swara yoga teaches how a state of union can be achieved by means dwelling upon and deciphering one's breath.

According to the Vedic System, energy flows through 3 main channels. The criss-crossing Ida, Pingala and the central channel Sushuhmna. Correspondingly there are three types of Swara – through the left nostril, through the right and through both the nostrils.

Ida is the cold lunar flow, the corresponding nostril is left.  The left swara presides over mental actions. When the left nostril is active , mental activities such as thinking, planning, calculating, etc are at peak performance. Creativity, imagination, intuition, insight are associated with the left Swara. Medical research indicates that the breath through left nostril has an effect on the Parasympathetic Nervous System. The PNS is responsible for stimulation of “rest, relaxation” or cooling as suggested by Ida.

Pingala is the hot solar flow, the corresponding nostril is the right one. The right swara presides over physical actions. When the right nostril is active, we optimize on physical activities such as digestion, exercise, etc. The right Swara is related with the Sympathetic Nervous System – the fight fright flight part of the human body.

Sushumna is the central channel for the flow of vital energy. The flow through the Sushumna occurs only with purification of the mind and body. During the alternation of predominant nostril the breath flows through both left and right equally. This indicates that the Sushumna is active. When the Sushumna is active the body and mind are relaxed and functioning at optimal levels. Spiritual actions such as meditation require both nostrils to be active.

Now that you understand the bare basics of Swara Yoga, here are some tips to improve your day.

Activate your right nostril
  • Before your yoga class. This will decrease discomfort experienced while doing asana.
  • Before having food. Helps to digest food.
Activate your left nostril
  • Prior to important meetings. It would sharpen your acumen.
  • For deepening your meditation

Treating with Swara Yoga
  • When feverish, observe the nostril that is predominant. Lie down on the side of the active nostril, this would help to open the other nostril and thus balance the system.
  • Common cold is associated with an active left nostril, so work on activating your right nostril.
  • Chronic diseases such as Asthma effects the Swara. It has been observed that in such cases one nostril is active for a much longer duration the other, in such conditions balancing the Swara is known to bring about cure.
How to activate a nostril?
To activate a nostril – let’s say the right
a) close the left nostril gently using index finger and breath from right for 20 to 40 breaths
b) use a cotton ball to plug left nostril or left ear to open the right nostril
c) lie on your left side for 5 to 8 minutes to activate the right
d) apply pressure on your left armpit for few minutes to activate the right

The wisdom of the ancient sages and the marvel of the human body… Keep exploring


  1. Good post.

    - What should we do to make our both nostrils more active for our regular life
    - How do we activate any particular nostril (like before yoga or meeting as discussed in the post)


  2. Activating both nostrils - according to Swara Yoga, that happens only when energy flows through the Sushumna. Spiritual practices like meditation, selfless service, austerities, tapas purify the body till then energy flows through both.

    That being said, some are born with both nostrils active a most of the time. Could be past life Karma.

    To activate a nostril say the right
    a) close the left gently using index finger and breath from right
    b) use a cotton ball to plug left nostril or left ear to open the right nostril
    c) lie on your left side to activate the right
    d) apply pressure on your left armpit for few minutes to activate the right


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