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The Mirror Of The Self: [15] Perception Of Breathing Through The Alternate Nostrils

Published: 12.02.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

Perception Of Breathing Through The Alternate Nostrils

The quest of truth means the search for laws. The world of Nature has many laws. The material world has laws of its own. Likewise the spiritual world. There are also laws pertaining to our bodily consciousness. The amalgamation of our body with awareness yields many laws. Our life is regulated by laws. He who well comprehends the laws, comes to apprehend the principles of change; one unacquainted with the laws, cannot come by them. It is not that a man is bound to continue the way he has been going on. If we come to understand the laws, we can change what is amiss. But if we do not apprehend the laws, things will go on as before.

The Law Of Change

The breath is a factor of change. It is connected with the current of vital power that runs through our body. Sometimes this current runs through the right nostril, at other times through the left. It is continually changing. According to ancient seers, it changes every 2 '/2 quarters, one quarter lasting 48 minutes. The present-day scientists say that the cycle of breath changes every 2 '/2 hours. When the breath flows through the left nostril, there is one kind of activity; when it flows through the right nostril, another kind of activity ensues.

This became a matter of deep study during the ancient ages and on the basis of that study evolved the svara vigyan i.e., science of breathing through the right or the left nostril. The nature of the current cycle was made the basis for determining the present, Uie past and the future prospects. Sometimes remarkable observa­tions are made on that basis, which a common person cannot even imagine. So he comes to look upon them as a marvel. As a matter of fact, if we comprehend the law, its operation appears to us to be natural enough, but if we do not understand it, it appears to us to be a marvel.

Science Of Breathing Through The Alternate Nostrils

It is a marvellous science. A discipline of breathing was evolved. On that basis it was determined what kind of activity might be suitably initiated in the course of a particular cycle. It was said that for fervid action, the breath should flow through the right nostril. But if one required a cool and collected head, for amiable and gentle action, the breath should flow through the left nostril. When the breath flows through both the nostrils uniform­ly, the occasion is most appropriate for samadhi (deep meditation). Neither moving nor unmoving, neither hot nor cold, neither mild, nor rough! Nothing but a state of deep meditation. The evolution of the science of alternate breathing constitutes the development of a great science.

The Cycle Of The Cerebral Hemispheres

Along with the cycle of breathing, the modern scientists have made a second discovery that of the cycle of the cerebral hemispheres. The cycle of the cerebral hemispheres functions like the cycle of breathing and its duration has been recognised to be 90 minutes. The right hemisphere works for 90 minutes and the left hemisphere works for 90 minutes. It does not mean that with the activation of breathing through the right nostril, the cycle of breathing through the left nostril comes to a stop. Nor does it mean that with the functioning of the right cerebral hemisphere, the left cerebral hemisphere goes totally inert. It only means that one of the cycles functions more actively and the other grows less active.

The Function Of The Brain

The question arises - What is the function of the brain'.' How do the two cerebral hemispheres work? All our activities are directed by the brain. It is mainly through the brain or the spinal cord that our bodily system works. The right part of the brain is responsible for discipline, righteousness, religion, faith, friendli­ness, good conduct, etc. The field of spiritual sciences or occult sciences is related to the right hemisphere. The left part of the brain governs our reading and writing, etc. Logic, mathematics and all secular disciplines fall under the governance of the left cerebral hemisphere. Both the right and the left hemispheres have different functions allotted to each. A comparative study of these two hemispheres yields us many principles of control and change.

The Cycle Of The Seasons

A man's mood undergoes continual change. From morning till evening, a man experiences a change of mood hundreds of times. It is so with a child, as well as with a youth. Changes of mood occur in the case of both the intelligent and the unintelligent. It is rare to find a man whose mood never changes. One factor behind change of mood is seasonal periodicity. We have with us functioning a cycle of seasons, too. There are six seasons in a year - summer, winter, the rainy season, etc. Subtle researchers have observed six seasons functioning in every man's day. The early morning may be compared with the spring. After a few hours, we have the summer of a man's day and one's head gets heated up. If you want to talk to someone when your head is cool, better meet him in the morning. At mid-day, even a good motion is likely to miscarry. One may indulge in routine talk, but blazing noon is no time for discussing important affairs. Avoid the hot season, if you want to discuss some important work, proposal or line of action; it might turn against you. The evening time may be compared to the rainy season. At evenfall, the brain starts cooling down. Generally, the time for counselling is set after 4 p.m. There should be no counselling between 12 Noon and 4 p.m.

Factors Of Change

The cycle of the seasons goes on. There are three seasons of the day and three seasons of the night. How many cycles do we function within? There are the cycle of breathing, the cycle of the seasons, and the cycle of the cerebral layers. All these cycles are natural. An understanding of them affords us the principles of, change. On the contrary, lack of understanding of these cycles is attended by mishaps.

A brahman went on a journey. He found himself in a forest. After going some distance, he said to himself, "Here's a clearing! Let me cook my food and eat it here." He had with him the necessary provisions'. He gathered a few stones and using some wet earth cleaned a spot for himself. Then he went away to fetch some wood. During his absence, an ass came and sat down on the sanctified ground. When the man returned, he found his hearth desecrated. All his labour had gone waste. Where was he to cook his food? In a tone of despair, he blurted out, "O Sir Donkey! Had someone else occupied my seat as you have done, I would have reprimanded him thus, 'You bloody ass! Have you no sense that you have spoiled the hallowed spot I prepared for cooking my dinner?' Now that you, an ass, have done this deed, I don't know what to say. I can't think of an appropriate simile. You are truly matchless! What am I to compare you with?"

Such things happen in life. We prepare some ground and something happens unexpectedly. A problem is created. We must ensure that no ass reaches and pollutes our hallowed ground. We must discover such principles of change that we never encounter any problem.

An Important Exercise

The respiratory cycle is intimately connected with ourchar-acler; it is also linked with secular and spiritual disciplines. Il affects our moods and determines our fate. The exercise of breathing through alternate nostrils is no common exercise, though its technique is very simple - 'Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right, then inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left.' Go on inhaling and exhaling thus. It seems so common an exercise but it is invested with deep sig­nificance and produces uncommon effects.

Result Of Scientific Research

Today, a lot of research is being conducted on the respiratory cycle and the brain. The conclusion thereof is - 'When the breath is drawn through the left nostril, the right part of the brain is activated, and when the breath is drawn through the right nostril, the left part of the brain is activated.' We have thus come to know certain secret principles. If we want to lead a very tranquil, modest and disciplined life, we must start the left respiratory cycle. This would activate the right part of the brain and our mood would undergo a change; all restlessness would be extinguished and the spirit of self-observation awakened. This is a very important principle - 'To activate the right side of the brain, resort to breathing through the left nostril!' When we set on the left respiratory cycle, we feel as if the brain is getting more and more tranquil, as if it is being subjected to air-conditioning. We have experienced this fact for ourselves. We stopped inhaling through the right nostril and inhaled instead through the left nostril and continued the practice for a long time and we felt within ourselves a tremendous peace. People who have a very fickle mind, who are filled with tension and are restless, will experience increased tension if they inhale through the right nostril. If we wish to put an end to tension, we must stop inhaling through the right nostril and instead should start inhaling through the left nostril. The tension would gradually subside.

The Problem And Its Resolution

Every man is beset with problems. Today, even the student has become a problem. Why is today's student so impertinent and licentious? The student, whose right side of the brain is not activated, is bound to be insolent and undisciplined. It would be highly beneficial for him to set on the left respiratory cycle. For the development of our constructive and creative faculties we must activate the right side of the brain by setting on the left respiratory cycle.

For those who feel weak, fearful or suffer from an in­feriority complex and despair, the practice of inhaling through the right nostril will be found to be very beneficial. With the setting on of the right respiratory cycle, all these defects disappear of themselves.

Equanimity: Good Fortune

The problem is when to activate the left respiratory cycle and when to set on the right. The technique of breathing through alternate nostrils has been developed to resolve this problem. It is no mere anuloma-viloma exercise of pranayama, but a meditational exercise. We talk about equanimity, the yoga of equilibrium and of samayika. Of course, there should be equanimity in life, but if one's nervous system is not regulated, if one's respiratory cycle is not just right, if one's right and left hemispheres do not properly function, how is such a person to develop equanimity? A balanced functioning of all these is indispensable for equanimity. One may be very accomplished in certain matters, but without equanimity, all is marred. In other words, it may be said that without equanimity one has no luck and all one's ac­complishments are rendered futile.

Kunti's Teaching

Kunti was on her way to the jungle along with the five Pandavas. Some women came to know about it. They got together and went to see Kunti. They said to her, "O Great queen! You have come to the jungle, or we would never have had the opportunity of meeting you. Kindly teach us the secret of living!" Kunti was full of anguish at her own fate. However, the women's entreaty afforded her self-assurance and she said:

"You are women! Being a woman, you should rather give birth to a lucky son - not to a warrior or an erudite person, but only to a son blessed with good furtune."

The women asked - why?

Kunti said to them, "See, these sons of mine who are great heroes, industrious and valorous. They have learnt the technique of archery, but they are misfortunate to suffer in the forest. Therefore, I advise, 'only give birth to sons who are blessed and fortunate'."

Good luck comprehends everything. Deprived of good luck, learning and valour are of little avail.

Equanimity: Fate

Let us view this saying in a different perspective: let us substitute 'equanimity' in place of 'good fortune'. Develop equanimity; it comprehends all. Without equanimity, everything is rendered futile. There are two aspects of life - worldly and non-worldly. The non-worldly aspect is the spiritual aspect. If the man who has opted for the spiritual life fails to develop equanimity, he may be said to have achieved nothing. Valour and learning, in that case, have little significance. A man may be very valiant and learned, but if he is not able to develop equanimity, his life is rendered meaningless. In worldly terms it may be said, however well-read, learned and valiant a person may be, if luck has deserted him, he cannot accomplish anything worthwhile despite his great talents.

Equilibrium and Equanimity

The greatest principle of spiritual life is the practice of equanimity, the practice of samayika. We can achieve equanimity through balanced breathing - neither the left nor the right respiratory cycle being exclusively activated. Both the right and the left respiratory cycles equally active, lead to equanimity. If the right cycle is more active, it would produce greater anger, tension and aggressive mentality. If, on the other hand, the left cycle is predominant, it would lead to fear and inferiority complex. In a way, the state of equanimity is a state of equilibrium. Equanimity is where (here is no fear, nor insolence. There are some people who are very impudent; they are reckless and know no fear. So long nobody does anything contrary, it is all right. But the moment someone contradicts an insolent person, the latter immediately flares up. At times he even tries to intimidate others - 'I'll go away!', 'I'll leap down from the roof!', etc. To bluster and intimidate others becomes a part of his nature. There are some people who are very submissive and timid. They are even afraid to venture out of their house. One youth said to me, I’m in a queer plight. I cannot properly talk to anyone; I find it difficult to conduct my business. The moment I meet a stranger, my heart starts palpitating." Now, we have to discover a principle, which would forestall both kinds of evil and help us to be equanimous. Neither insolence nor fear. What we want is fear­lessness coupled with non-violence, goodwill allied with dis­cipline.


If the whole of our behaviour and conduct is governed by equalitarianism, there could be no better system then communism. However, many people engaged in the development of communism for decades, have confessed that communism is no longer their ideal. 'Democracy and freedom are not the monopoly of capitalism' - such used to be the opinion of people associated with communism. Now they are saying, "Our conduct is no longer governed by the spirit of equality and that is why communism has not succeeded." Where equality reigns, there can be no inequality. Where there is inequality, equality is certainly wanting there. The spiritual masters have said that equality constitutes the highest point of our conduct. It would be a blessed day when equality and justness come to prevail in our world. If only we can ensure the functioning of a system, whether political or social, on the principles of equality, we should be able to evolve a system of healthy and peaceful living. One of the governing principles is a balanced way of breathing, the exercise of breathing through alternate nostrils. Through this exercise of alternate breathing, we can maintain an equilibrium in our instinctive responses and develop a balanced way of living.


3rd Edition 1995

Jain Vishva Bharati Institute
Ladnun -341 306 (Rajasthan)

Muni Dhananjay Kumar (Hindi)
Muni Mahendra Kumar (English)

Translated by:
Late Prof. R.K. Seth

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anger
  2. Body
  3. Brahman
  4. Brain
  5. Consciousness
  6. Discipline
  7. Equanimity
  8. Fear
  9. Meditation
  10. Non-violence
  11. Pandavas
  12. Perception of Breathing
  13. Pranayama
  14. Samadhi
  15. Samayika
  16. Science
  17. Yoga
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