Yoga:  Merging the Science with the Philosophy

Yoga: Merging the Science with the Philosophy

Energy Anatomy 101

The concept of subtle energy is one that has been part of many cultures throughout history, and the discipline of yoga is no exception. Our breath has a powerful effect on pranic energy and how it flows. Prana is described as something that flows continuously from deep within. A state of disease, lethargy, frustration, or feeling stuck is an expression of too much prana outside the body. The more peaceful and balanced we feel, the less dispersed our prana is. If the prana does not have room to flow freely within the body, then something must be blocking it. These blocks are energetic “trash” which both asana and breathing techniques help to release.

In yoga philosophy, pranic energy moves, or flows, through an intricate superhighway of channels called nadis. The exact number is unknown because they appear to change throughout yoga’s history, and are dependent upon the authority at the time.

Regardless, three major channels stay consistent throughout:   Susuhmna, Ida and Pingala. Sushumna is the center channel which runs the length of the spinal cord. Ida starts on the left side of the pelvis at the root chakra and weaves back and forth up the spine intersecting at each chakra center until it reaches the third eye. From there it turns back down and ends at the left nasal passageway. Pingala starts on the right side of the pelvis and continues in the same manner as Ida but on the opposite side, ending at the right nasal passageway.

Ida is the channel for more yin, feminine energy, while Pingala is the channel for more yang masculine energy.

In Tantric philosophy Shakti energy (divine feminine) lives at the root chakra, while Shiva energy (Divine masculine) lives at the crown chakra. The process of Kundalini rising is the process of bringing pranic energy from Shakti up to Shiva, completing the totality of the divine in balanced expression. This movement of energy is often pictured as two snakes weaving up a staff.

Collectively prana, nadis, and chakras make up our subtle body. In yoga, the subtle body is referred to as pranayama kosa.

The points at which sushumna, ida, and pingala intersect creating a vortex of energy is called a Chakra which translates as wheel. There are seven major energy centers (chakras), running from the base of the pelvis to just above the crown of the head. Each chakra is associated with its central issue. Using pranayama is one technique to help resolve the issue for that chakra bringing it back to balance and harmony.

The Science

Research has shown that erectile tissue located in the nasal passages swells at 60-90 minute intervals on either side of the nose. The result of this is we breathe more dominantly through the side that is not swollen at that time. This physiological occurrence is called nasal laterality.

Furthermore, there have been studies that showed that when breathing dominantly through the left nostril, the right hemisphere of the brain is more active. In opposite to this when the breath is more dominant through the right nostril the left hemisphere of the brain is more active. The right hemisphere of the brain is associated with nonlinear artistic and creative thought while the left hemisphere is associated with linear, mathematical and logical thought.

Interestingly nasal laterality also seems to have an effect on our nervous system with dominant right nostril breathing connecting with our sympathetic nervous system and left nostril breathing with our parasympathetic system.

Putting it all Together

For centuries yogis have been using pranayama practices like Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing) to bring balance to the energies flowing through the main left (ida) and right (pingala) energy channels that weave up the spine. Today, modern science is able to draw a clear connection between what yogis experienced and described as masculine and feminine energies in the subtle body, that directly correlate with the physiological effects of nasal laterality on the brain and nervous system.

Ida Nadi

Left Nostril

Yin Energy

Right Hemisphere

Non-linear, creative thought

Parasympathetic Nervous System

Pingala Nadi

Right Nostril

Yang Energy

Left Hemisphere

Linear, mathematical thought

Sympathetic Nervous System


Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing

Take a comfortable seat. Place the thumb and ring finger on either side of the nose. Partially close the left nostril and breathe in through the right. Then, switch the fingers to block the right nostril and breathe out through the left nostril. Stay there and Breathe in through the left nostril. Reverse the pressure of the fingers and breath-out through the right nostril. Continue to repeat in this manner as long as you’re comfortable. When you’re ready to conclude release both nostrils and take a soft breath in and out.