A Yogic Breath to Cool Down the Last Days of Summer (and Heat up Fall).
Ancient yogic practices offer us certain techniques to find balance and harmony within our daily lives.
As I walk the path of yoga, I adopt the exercises in it that add to the quality of my life and bring me peace. I have come to learn that these practices are tools to help me adjust to changing seasons and environments—be they external or internal ones.
Pranayama, the technique of controlling the breath, particularly supports me through times of change. If we can learn to manipulate our breath—the depth, speed and rhythm of it—we can then control the energy (prana) flowing throughout our body and life.
Breath work is an essential part of the yogic world, but it is a useful skill for the average person, too.
As the last days of summer linger over us, we are ready now to cool down. Nadi Shodhana is a powerful yet gentle pranayama exercise to achieve this. Another name for this practice is “Alternate Nostril Breathing” or “Sweet Breath.” In Sanskrit, Nadi means “flow” or “channel” and Shodhana means “purification.”
Not only can this breathing practice cool us down physically, it can also calm our mind and nervous system. By the end of summer we need grounding and relaxation after spending so much time in the light. Nadi Shodhana supports this. One wonderful thing about this practice: when we change the order in which we do it, it has the opposite effect on us, and so it can be used to rev up our energy and heat when summer turns to fall.
In yoga, we believe that there are powerful energy channels called Nadis running through the body that require balancing. Two of these Nadis are the Ida and Pingala Nadi. These energy channels start at the opposite sides of the body and crisscross from our head all the way down to the base of our spine where our first chakra resides.
Ida Nadi is located on the left side of the body and is activated through breathing through the left nostril, which is connected to the right side of the brain, the feminine, “feeling” hemisphere—and also the cooling, calming one.
Pingala Nadi is located on the right side of the body and is activated through breathing through our right nostril, which is connected to the left side of the brain, the the masculine, “doing” hemisphere—and also the warming and energizing one.
So if this practice resonates, let’s begin! We will start with the cooling, calming practice of the left, Ida nostril—because after all, summer is still here. (Working with this side is also good for shifting anxiety.)
Nadi Shodhana Practice.
1. Begin with an open hand and then fold the middle and index fingers into the palm.
2. Place the thumb on the side of the right nostril to gently hold it closed. (The pinky and the ring finger will be used to close the left nostril later on.)
3. Inhale slowly through the left nostril while keeping the right closed with the thumb.
4. Hold the breath for a moment, close the left nostril with the pinky and ring finger and release the thumb from the right nostril. Now exhale out of the right nostril.
5. Keep fingers in place and inhale through the right nostril.
6. Hold the breath, release the fingers and place the thumb back on the right nostril. Exhale through the left nostril.
We have just finished our first round! Try this for no more than three rounds to begin, and if it is supportive, work up to a few more, but no more than five rounds. Take it slow and steady and allow time after this pranayama exercise to sit quietly and adjust. Notice what has changed.
(When the darker days of fall arrive and we need a lift, we can use this practice to energize and warm us, by first closing the left side and inhaling through the right; we then finish a round by exhaling through the right nostril.)
This pranayama practice not only has the power to cool or warm us; it also balances our brain, so afterward we have access to more clarity and greater health.
In yoga we believe that experiencing peace with our world begins by finding equanimity within. May we each work in harmony with the changing seasons and, through this, lean into an experience of sustained ease.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Editor: Toby Israel