Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Is not breathing through my left nostril preventing me from going to Mysore?

Over the last couple of days, I have been reading with great interest and thinking about Claudia's recent post about keeping both nostrils active in meditation. I don't normally pay attention to these things. For one, I don't meditate, and I also don't have a regular pranayama practice, mainly because I don't have a teacher whom I trust to teach me pranayama. Besides, it is one thing to mess up my body with incorrect asana practice; why take the further risk of messing up my nervous system with incorrect pranayama practice? But Claudia says something in her recent post that is also applicable to asana practice:

"pay attention after your next practice to how your breathing is functioning.  Chances are your will be breathing evenly through both nostrils, especially if you practiced the Ashtanga method of asana which encourages balance, alignment, use of bandha, drishti and deep breathing with sound."

Immediately after my practice today, just before I settled into savasana, I checked my breathing, and found that I was indeed breathing quite evenly through both nostrils. The practice--in particular, all those backbends in second series or nadi shodhana--must have helped to even out my breathing. And then, after lying in savasana for five to ten minutes, I checked my breathing again, and found that I had reverted to my usual predominantly right-nostril breathing.

Over the last couple of days, after reading Claudia's post, I have been checking my breathing at random times throughout the day. I've noticed that I am predominantly a right-nostril breather: In four times out of any five times that I check my breathing, I find myself breathing mostly or even entirely through my right nostril. Which really isn't so surprising, come to think of it, given the activities that occupy most of my waking hours (teaching, writing, blogging, thinking about teaching, thinking about writing, and thinking about blogging...). Oh, for your info, here's Claudia's list of activities that are associated with right nostril breathing:
  1. Physical activity and hard work
  2. Eating, evacuating the bowels
  3. Risky and heroic feats, and challenging ventures
  4. Shatkarma, kunyal rkiya (stomach washing by drinking and vomiting salty water)
  5. Intellectual study, mathematics
  6. Buying, selling, commerce
  7. Travel
  8. Presenting in public, addressing an audience
  9. Opposition, resistance, debating
  10. Riding horse bikes, or motor cycles, or adrenaline expelling ventures
  11. For men to attract women
At least three of the activities above (2., 5., 8.) are activities that I partake in regularly. Actually, 1. probably also applies to me, if you count asana practice as "Physical activity and hard work". I also have pretty regular bowel movements (is this too much information? My apologies...). Ha, actually, if running the risk of possibly breaking one's back in Kapotasana and running the risk of landing on my face during jumpbacks count as risky and heroic feats, then even 3. would apply to me as well :-)

For good measure, let's also take a look at Claudia's list of activities that are associated with left nostril breathing:

  1. Drinking water or urinating
  2. Getting out of bed
  3. Calm and silent work, especially if it requires mental creativity
  4. Purchasing jewelry
  5. charity and helping others
  6. Settling disagreements
  7. Approaching those in senior positions
  8. Religious practices, ceremonies, marriage and initiations of any sort
  9. Mantra practice
  10. Long journeys
  11. Meeting a guru
  12. Sowing seeds
  13. Anything to do with medicine and treatment of diseases
  14. Singing, playing, composing or listening to music
  15. For women, participating in sexual relations
I don't really have much to say about this list, since, as I mentioned, I seem to be predominantly a right-nostril breather. Actually, maybe I do have something to say, after all. Consider 10. (Long journeys) and 11. (Meeting a guru). Now consider the fact that I did not make it to Mysore this year. Now could it be that I did not make it to Mysore this year because I was breathing too much through my right nostril and not enough through my left? Sounds crazy, I know. But hey, anything is possible. I should try to breathe more through my left nostril from now on. But if I do this, how am I going to continue to teach, blog, write, and continue to think about teaching, blogging and writing? Very troubling...
Any thoughts from all of you seasoned Mysore-goers and/or seasoned left-nostril breathers out there? 


In other news: It appears that my recent post on Fish & Chips or Ashtanga--which has been popular among foodies and has attracted quite a few in the foodie crowd to this blog--has made it to the list of the ten most read posts on this blog. Not that you'd care, but I find it quite amusing, especially considering the fact that I don't even eat fish and chips now. But to all of you foodies who have stumbled upon this blog: Do not let my non-fish-&-chips-eating ways deter you from eating more fish & chips, and, more importantly, try out Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga :-)

In yet other news: I just read this very engaging post over at Jangalikayamane about some common Ashtanga myths. It's a very informative and compelling read: I highly recommend it. In particular, the post has the following to say about mula bandha:

"No amount of explaining is going to help someone understand the subtlety of mula bandha and yet I hear teachers going on and on about what/how/where to find it.

All the long-time practitioners emphasise its importance but rarely will they spend an hour labouring on how to find it. It seems mula bandha just showed up one day during their practice, long after they gave up searching, and I don’t think it was where they had been told to look."

These are very wise words, especially in light of the recent post I wrote about inhaling through your anus. And I agree: Ultimately, no amount of explaining--including exhorting you to inhale through your anus--is going to help you understand the subtlety of mula bandha. Mula Bandha may show up, when it does, when you are in the midst of breathing through your anus. Or it may not. Whatever it is, don't obsess. If you like the idea of inhaling through your anus, do that. If you don't, do something else. Whatever you do or don't do, chances are mula bandha will find you and shower you in its divine grace one day when you are least expecting it. In the meantime, do your practice, and all is coming.    


  1. I encourage you to check out Mel Robin's writing on Nasal Laterality, which you can read here on Google Books, beginning on page 374 of the following link: http://books.google.com/books?id=xyJEDt9LrGsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=mel+robin&source=bl&ots=g1n93_syIK&sig=InBsKaCmSl5e6WEecfhw5L0zqvc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WvtYUPT6LeHqiQKBm4GwBQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=nostril&f=false

    You're experience with your breath sounds pretty normal.

    Good subject for posting, btw!

    1. Thanks for the book recommendation, Anonymous. I'll check it out soon, and get back to you about it. I can't do it right now: I'm too beat from staring at the computer the whole afternoon (and am also seriously breathing exclusively through my right nostril :-)).

  2. I like your comment on mulabandha and agree. It will just turn up eventually. Until then, whatever works. I thought I was doing mulabandha for six or seven years before I think I came to understand what it is really about or how to practice this subtle whisper of a technique in earnest. I have been trying to teach it in my class though - and maybe that is a mistake. Kristen

    1. Hello Kristen,
      great to hear from you :-) From my experience, mula bandha has a way of turning up, staying for a little bit, and then wandering away. It is a very fickle creature ;-)

      Perhaps one sign that you have an advanced practice is when you are able to get mula bandha to turn up and stay for a little longer before wandering away. But I don't think we have too much control over this. So again, it's back to "do your practice, and all is coming."

  3. Ha ha ha, funny, is it then stopping you?

    Maehle does talk about how the predominant breathing of all of us, not just you, happens mostly through the right nostril in our times and that is what leads us to wars etc... that fiery right nostril breathing, always seeking action...

    And on the Mysore question, I'd say it might be

    1. Interesting that most of us breathe predominantly through our right nostril. Not surprising, though, come to think of it, especially in light of the many wars and conflicts around us.

      Glad you agree on the Mysore question :-)

  4. The nostril breathing concept is quite intriuging. From the lists of typical characteristics/activites the first thing I noticed and thought of is the right brain-left brain divide in terms of functions (e.g speech dominated by left hemisphere) and the idea that right handed people tend to be predominantly left hemisphere dominant and vice versa. Perhaps breathing equally will also allow us to think more clearly then...

    1. Yes, Michael, I think the right-left nostril breathing maps directly onto the right-left brain divide, i.e. if you breathe predominantly through the right nostril, you are basically left hemisphere predominant. So breathing through both nostrils should harmonize the two hemispheres.