Introduction to Pranayama - Alternate Nostril and 1-4-2 Breathing Patterns
Pranayama is the study and practice of focused breathing to achieve a meditative state of consciousness, or, in the modern vernacular, a state of mindfulness. We humans are gifted at achieving a meditative, mindful state of conscious awareness. For the most part, we simply only need to release the distractions that keep us focused in the past or future. Devices such as mantras (repeating sounds or phrases), body postures (asana) and hand postures (mudra) were developed and then given spiritual significance as a means of tricking our survival instincts into releasing strategy awareness to more refined areas within consciousness. And, if done with sincerity and a sense of greater purpose, these spiritual devices are very effective in supporting the expansion of sensory, visceral and emotional awareness within consciousness – the expansion of mind. In the greater knowing, everything we encounter is mind. Everything.
The Akashic Records indicate that our human bodies were designed to easily allow for the evolution toward an ever expanding “spiritual” awareness. This is because our human spirits are constantly evolving toward a more complete collaboration with our eternal soul, which is a singular cell of, and within, our creator’s mind. As evolving spirits (ever increasing awareness), we will find more and more effective ways to ensure the unity of body, spirit and soul. Our human spirits are the link, the bridge between the Earth (body, instinctual intelligence) and the Divine (soul, consciousness, eternal knowing). In short, we mediate between the creation (body) and its creator (soul).
But, I digress … any practice of thoughtful breath is pranayama. Prana (life force energy) is everywhere in the universe. Because of our, body, spirit, soul makeup, we humans can focus or concentrate prana through certain spirit practices – in this case – through pranayama. There are hundreds of breathing patterns – some are simple patterns of inhalation to exhalation through the nose, and occasionally the mouth, while others are more complicated alternating patterns of nostrils and mouth sequences designed to affect certain areas of the brain. There are also patterns of ratios – timed inhalation, hold and exhalation to release blocked prana. Life force energy (prana) locks in the soft tissue of the body due to unresolved relationship issues and looping negative thought patterns that result in emotional blocks. Some ratio breathing patterns are smoothly executed, others are aggressively performed; some involve fluttering the diaphragm, others systematically fill the lungs from bottom to top and then expel from top to bottom. Think of filling a pitcher from the bottom up and pouring from the top.
If you are just beginning with focused breathing practices, please know, to complete a full study of pranayama would take a lifetime. So, don’t get discouraged if this seems difficult at first. The focus of this alternating nostril technique is to opens the subtle visual centers within the brain to allow for a greater range of inner vision and imagination. This type of pattern is often used as a means of opening channels to the Akashic Records. This also helps with opening the third eye. It is important to suspend judgment when practicing such activities.
Our bodies naturally alternate nostrils throughout the course of a twenty-four-hour period. That is, of course, unless the inner tissue of the nose is damaged or somehow malformed. The very act of breathing creates the electrical energy our bodies use to stay alive. The purposeful exaggeration of alternating nostril patterns brings about a very different pattern of electrical impulses at the back of the brain.
The anatomy of the nose from Wikipedia:
In anatomy, a nasal concha, plural conchae, also called a turbinate or turbinal, is a long, narrow, curled shelf of bone that protrudes into the breathing passage of the nose in humans and various animals. The conchae are shaped like an elongated seashell, which gave them their name (Latin concha from Greek κόγχη). A turbinate bone is any of the scrolled spongy bones of the nasal passages in vertebrates.
In humans, the turbinates divide the nasal airway into 4 groove-like air passages, and are responsible for forcing inhaled air to flow in a steady, regular pattern around the largest possible surface area of nasal mucosa, which, as a ciliated mucous membrane with shallow blood supply, cleans and warms the inhaled air in preparation for the lungs.
From the spiritual point of view:
Our nostrils, more specifically, the turbinates’, are designed to alternate the spin direction and volume of the chi energy (prana) that are adjacent, or in a manner of speaking, that are “attached” to the molecules of oxygen. This is necessary to maintain the proper balance of the subtle life force energies (prana, chi) that give vitality to the entire body through the subtle channels called nadis. In the alternating pattern herein, the prana is concentrated to the “sight” centers of the brain. We can actively stimulate that visual center by forcing an alternate pattern of breathing specifically designed to gather chi at the back of the brain. This will help energize the connection between sensory sight and extra-sensory perception. This is not a balanced breath and is considered to be outside the teachings of pranayama by many scholars.
Side note: The teachings of pranayama, the study of influencing the movement of life force energy (prana, chi, ki) through the vital centers of the body, goes back several thousands of years and is central to the study of yoga. The work of the late B. K. S. Iyengar, a renowned master of hatha yoga, brings profound understanding to this subject. His book entitled, Light on Pranayama, offers subtle insights into the workings of these vital forces and how we can stimulate them to achieve expansion within our conscious awareness. His daughter, Geeta, and son, Prashant, continue his excellent work in hatha yoga and pranayama.
Pranayama Technique #1: Alternate Nostril
Body Posture: Always sit comfortably with your spinal column erect and lifted. When sitting on the floor, a small pillow, or two, can make the difference if your hamstring muscles or hips are tight. Do not use the back of a chair for support; keep your back straight by adjusting your hips. Using the arm of the chair to support your right arm will put you into the wrong posture. Imagine the crown of your head attached to a string hanging down from the ceiling that is gently pulling you upward. Your chin will naturally tilt slightly downward as you imagine the lift.
Hand Posture: The last two fingers of the right-hand control the flow of oxygen into and out of the left nostril, while the thumb of the right hand controls the inhalation and exhalation of the right nostril. Overlap your fourth finger with the third finger, creating a mass equal to that of your thumb. See the photo below.
The Breath: This breath is not a balanced breath and should not be done for extreme lengths of time. For the average person fifteen to twenty minutes is enough. If you feel any nausea or dizziness while doing this breath, stop for a moment, then continue your focused breathing, replacing the exhalation through the mouth with exhaling through the left nostril in the short version and replacing the inhalation through the mouth; in the long version with inhalation through the left nostril.
Again, this breath is designed to awaken the visual centers at the back of the brain that allow for greater “inner intuitive vision.”
Always begin this breath with three conscious exhalations through both nostrils. With a complete yogic breath, expand the diaphragm as you breathe deeply into your belly through both nostrils, moving the breath upward through your torso into the top of the lungs with a slight upward shrug of the shoulders. Then release the inhalation starting with dropping the slight shrug, then the upper chest, mid torso, and then finishing with a complete contraction of the diaphragm as you exhale through both nostrils. Repeat two more times. As soon as you exhale for the third time, immediately begin the alternate pattern. (See video at end of article)
See the image series to get a full idea of how to use your right hand while alternating nostrils. Do not use your left hand to open and close nostrils. (See video at end of article)
Half breathing pattern:
Close your left nostril and breathe in through right nostril
Close both nostrils and breath out through your mouth (mouth must be shaped in oval)
Open your left nostril and inhale
Close your left nostril at the top of your inhalation, open your right nostril and exhale
– Repeat –
Keeping your left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril
Close both nostrils and exhale through your mouth (mouth must be shaped in oval)
Keep the right nostril closed. Open the left nostril and inhale
Close the left nostril, open the right and exhale ...
– Repeat –
Full alternate nostril breathing pattern:
In through right nostril
Out through mouth
In through left nostril
Out through right nostril
In though left nostril
Out through right nostril
In through mouth (mouth must be shaped in oval)
Out through left nostril ….
– Repeat –
The right hand, not the left hand, is used to close and hold open (if necessary) nostrils. (If either nostril needs opening, gently push the area next to the nostril away from the nose.) In mystical studies, the left hand is the receptive aspect of prana while the right hand is the giving aspect. The dominance of one hand over the other in daily activities does not play into this equation. If you are left-handed, still use your right hand when doing this type of breathing pattern. The correct hand posture is shown below:
Classic posture of right hand with the pinky and ring finger together to close, or hold open, the left nostril, and the thumb to close or hold open the right nostril. The fingers overlap to give the same surface area for the left as the thumb does for the right. The index and middle fingers are held downward so that they do not touch the bridge of the nose or brow or lower forehead. That would redirect the focus to that area of the body.
The more simplified way is shown with the pinky and thumb being used to close or hold open the nostrils. While this is okay, it is not the best mudra (hand posture) for effectively spinning the prana as it enters the nostrils.
Pranayama Technique #2: 1-4-2 Ratio Breathing
This pattern is called, 1 . 4 . 2, and is considered a master breath as it brings deep calm to body and mind when practiced for only twenty minutes. Side note: many people breath in this pattern when consciously going out of body, or, having a spontaneous OBE. This technique requires that each segment of the technique be in exact ratio to each other. This is why it is recommended that the practitioner have a metronome set at 60 beats per minute playing in the background. A phone app is available for free.
For beginning practitioners, the ratio of 4 inhalation, 16 hold and 8 exhalation is best.
The ratio explained - If we inhale in for a count of 4 (1x4), we hold for a count of 16 (4x4) and exhale for a count of 8 (2x4). So, in this case, 1 equals 4, 4 equals 16, 2 equals 8. If our beginning ratio was 5, 1 equals 5, (1x5) 4 equals 20 (5x4) and 2 equals 10 (2x5). You will need a metronome, or your hold and exhale will not be the same ratio as your inhalation: you will rush the hold and further rush the exhalation. By the way, each breath is a complete yogic breath. You must inhale completely during the 4 count. Do not simply breath in and stop at 4. You must completely retain your inhalation for the 16 count without releasing any leaking, and then exhale for the full duration count of 8. This takes practice, and once achieved, will bring great calm to body and mind. We will cover more ratios and their overall effect in future articles.
Complete yogic breath –
Alternate nostril –
1-4-2 Breathing pattern –