Prana and nadi
The three swara
-Swara and thithi
-Swara and rashi chakra
The breath, space and time
At the very beginning of this article (Part 1), a statement was made : The Hindu way of timekeeping is a very deep science, for it relates the individual to the universe, the microcosm to the macrocosm.
We have seen how the Hindu timekeeping is connected to the solar and lunar cycles. But one might wonder, how does it relate to the human being?
Prana and nadi
Prana The breath is the medium of the cosmic life force, called prana. The cosmic prana operates within the human being as prana vayu. Prana is a Sanskrit word derived from two roots: “pra” is a prefix used to denote constancy, and “na” means movement. Therefore, prana is a force that is in constant motion, like a vibration moving to and fro without any interception. Prana is subtle electromagnetic vibration that animates all life.
Nadi Nadis are pathways for prana. The physical body is structured by an underlying system of nadis. They are much subtler than the nervous system. The nadis, 72,000 in number, penetrate the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, carrying prana, the breath of life. They are thin, strand-like threads, similar to those of the lotus stem, which emanate from the spinal column.
Of these, the three 3 major nadis are ida, pingala and sushumna, shown in Fig. 1
Fig. 1 — The three major nadis — ida, pingala and sushumna
Ida originates at a point just below the base of the spine, emerges from the left side of the base and spirals upwards intersecting at the other four points in the spinal column, and terminates at the root of the left nostril.
Pingala emerges on the right hand side of the base of the spine, exactly opposite to ida. It spirals up the spinal column, crossing ida at the four points and terminates at the root of the right nostril.
Sushumna emerges from the base of the spine, the same as ida and pingala, but without diverging right or left, it travels directly up through the centre and unites with ida and pingala in the region of the medulla oblongata. Thus it is considered to correspond with the Central Nervous System (CNS).
The three swara
The alternating breath When one observes the breath, one will find that one nostril usually remains open for a certain duration of time and the breathing happens only through that nostril only. Later, this nostril closes and the alternate nostril opens.
The fact that we breathe alternately is very significant because it allows different pranic rhythms, called swara, to flow at different times. The flow of swara changes at regular intervals; it is not at all erratic. Every hour or every hour and 20 minutes, the active nostril changes. When the swara changes, both nostrils flow for about 1–4 minutes. This rhythm regulates all the psychological and physiological processes in the human being.
The 3 swara and 3 nadi
There are 3 swaras:
Chandra (lunar) swara or flow of breath through left nostril, which activates the ida nadi.
Surya (solar) swara or flow through right nostril, which activates the pingala nadi.
Shoonya swara or equalized breath through both nostrils, which activates sushumna.
Table 1. Ida and Pingala nadis
The Sushumna nadi corresponds to the central or cerebrospinal nervous system (CNS). The CNS carries impulses to the whole system. It is one main system, running from the base of the spine to the brain, and sushumna is also located in the same position.
Sushumna flows when the breath is equalized in both nostrils. When sushumna flows for a long time, the mind becomes one-pointed and still and meditation happens.
The swara can be changed at will depending on the purpose at hand. The methods to analyze and regulate the swara are explained in the tantric science of Swara Yoga.
Swara Yoga is a comprehensive system of breathing practices that takes into account the relationship of the breath to the cycles in nature. Just as one chooses the right season to sow seeds so that the plant can grow to its fullest potential, one can regulate the swara to support actions aligned with nature’s cycles that can lead to success.
Swara and thithi
Swara Yoga has a clear mapping of the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm. It explains how the swaras (pingala and ida) are connected to the solar and lunar cycles.
According to the Shiva Swarodaya,
During the first 3 thithis of Shukla paksha, the chandra swara (ida) flows from the time of sunrise and continues till the time span of 2 and 1/2 ghatis ( 60 minutes). The swara then alternates.
While, conversely, during the first 3 thithis of Krishna paksha, the surya swara (pingala) flows from the time of sunrise and continues till the time span of 2 and 1/2 ghatis (60 minutes). The swara then alternates.
So, these two swaras flow alternately for a period of 2 and 1/2 ghatis (60 minutes) throughout the 24 hours of a day.
The relationship between swara and thithi is shown in Fig. 2
Fig. 2 — Relationship between swara and thithi
Swara and rashi chakra
Shiva Swarodaya also explains how the swaras are related to transitions of the 12 rashis in the sky over the course of a day.
During the period of one day and night (24 hours), 12 rashi transitions occur.
Taurus, Cancer, Virgo, Scorpio, Capricorn and Pisces transit in the chandra swara (ida).
Aries, Leo, Aquarius, Libra, Gemini and Sagittarius transit in the surya swara (pingala).
Fig. 3 — Relationship between swara and rashi chakra
The breath, space and time
A normal healthy human being breathes 15 times a minute. Is this number 15 a random number? Or is it closely connected to the astronomical cycle?
In 1 sidereal day (nakshatra ahoratram) the entire 360° of the rashi chakra passes over the horizon. The period of the breath - one inhalation and exhalation — actually connects our measure of time to space, which is the degree of movement of the rashi chakra in the sky.
Study Fig. 4 for a few moments.
Fig. 4 — Space (Rashi chakra) and time relationship
We see that 21600 arc minutes of movement of the rashi chakra in the sky is equal to 216000 vipalas or 86400 seconds.
21600’ = 86400 s Therefore, 1’ = 4 s
Since a healthy human being takes 15 breaths in 1 minute (=60 s), 1 breath (inhalation and exhalation) takes 60/15 = 4 s.
Hence, with one breath, the movement of the rashi chakra in the sky is 1’.
360° of the rashi chakra has 360 * 60’ = 21600’. Hence, a human being breathes 21600 times in a day.
The Indian calendar also uses a time unit called prana. 10 vipalas make 1 prana. Hence, 1 vipala is 1/10 of a prana.
Fig. 5 — Time unit prana
The number 15 also relates arc minute (measure of space) to minute (measure of time). Consider Fig. 6.
Fig. 6 Relationship between arc-minute and minute
21600’ = 1440 minutes Therefore, 15’ = 1 minute
Hence, in 1 minute, the movement of the rashi chakra in the sky is 15’.
Similarly, the number 15 relates arc second (measure of space) to second (measure of time). Consider Fig. 7
Fig. 7 Relationship of arc second and second
1296000’’ = 86400 seconds Therefore, 15’’ = 1 s
Hence, in 1 second, the movement of the rashi chakra in the sky is 15’’.
In this four part series, we have explained the basic concepts of astronomy and Hindu (Vedic) way of timekeeping, and how it is based on the relationship between the microcosm and macrocosm. We have tried to explain in a simple yet comprehensive manner, so that one form a complete picture of the essential principles, without getting befuddled by too many details.
We hope that this is useful to everybody who wishes to explore the ancient knowledge tradition of Bharata.
Swara Yoga : The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing by Swami Muktibodhananda