Wed 25 Oct, 2006 06:55 am
If you observe the breath as it passes through the nostrils, you will find that it flows more freely through one nostril than the other; the more freely flowing nostril is called the dominant nostril. Take a moment now and see which of your nostrils is dominant. If you are calm and reading with steady attention, it is probably your left nostril. If you are restless and inclined to put the magazine aside and do something more active, your right nostril is probably flowing more freely. Pause and observe your breath from time to time, and you'll notice that the dominant nostril changes several times a day.
All that's fine, but how often do you have to change the air filter?
A schoolyard scuffle settled that for me a long time ago.
Accomplished yogis live much as we do they eat, breathe, work, play, laugh, cry, and die. But through their actions, they manifest a greater measure of self-awareness, self-control, and self-mastery than the rest of us. Because the body follows the mind and the mind follows the breath, working with the breath is a powerful means of achieving self-mastery. One of the keys to this mastery is the experiential knowledge of nostril dominance.
In the last issue, we looked at how greater awareness of nostril dominance can help us become more conscious of the pranic level of our being. This article will provide some practical tools for observing the breath and for changing its dominant flow from one nostril to the other.
Why not just pick one and stay with it?
If you have the freedom to postpone an activity until the appropriate nostril is dominant, that is the best course one that is available to the wandering yogis of India or those in a monastic setting. However, this is not always possible for those of us living in the modern, secular world. Although we can almost always choose not to eat when the right nostril is closed, many activities cannot be postponed. For example, you may be scheduled to make a forceful presentation in an adversarial business situation. When the appointed hour comes around, you are not feeling primed for it and notice that your left nostril is dominant. What then? The obvious answer is to change the dominant nostril.
The easiest method is to lie on the side opposite to the nostril you want to open. For example, if you want to open the right nostril after a meal to improve digestion, lie on your left side. Place a pillow or rolled-up blanket under your arm and keep your head slightly elevated. Your dominant nostril will switch within three to five minutes, but it may take as long as 15 minutes if you have a strong energy shift toward the left side.
Because pressure under one arm tends to shift the breath to the other nostril, yogis in India often carry staffs with a handle affixed to the top. These crutch-like dandas are not only intended to assist in walking but also to help regulate the breath, nostril dominance in particular. So, if you wish to open the left nostril, apply pressure under the right arm. To shift the dominant nostril to the right, apply pressure under the left arm.
You don't need a danda to do this; you can make a suitable substitute from materials readily available at home. Take a cloth, such as a clean rag or dish towel, roll it tightly into a cylinder about two inches (15 cm) in diameter and about six inches (50 cm) long. Use a string, tape, or rubber band to keep it from unrolling. You can also experiment with using a small pillow or a ball of cloth. Place one of these items under the arm when you want to shift nostrils. Until you become accustomed to this technique, it may take longer than lying on your side.
Another alternative is to take a vigorous walk. This will tend to open the right nostril. You can also switch the dominant nostril from one side to another by using the powerful influence of your mind. Focus your attention at the point between the nostrils, where the nose meets the upper lip. Breathe deeply and evenly, and gradually focus your awareness on the breath flowing through the nostril you wish to open. A further refinement is to focus on the same side of that nostril: for example, if you want to open the left side, focus on the far left side of the left nostril. Don't be discouraged if you don't succeed at first. Try again. With patience and persistence, your awareness and control will grow.
The Left Versus the Right Nostril
The nose is an amazing organ, and now researchers have evidence that smells that enter the left nostril are processed by the brain in a different way than smells that enter the right nostril. In a study published in December 1999, 32 college students were asked to sniff eight common odors through either the right or left nostril and asked to identify each scent and rank each one on pleasantness. One week later, the test was repeated with the other nostril.
Researchers found that people were better at identifying odors when they used their left nostrils. However, odors were perceived as more pleasant if smelled through the right nostril.
Experimental Test Smells
Right Side/Left Side
Although the olfactory bulbs on each side are connected, anatomical studies have shown that information from smells entering the left nostril goes predominantly to the left side of the brain, and information from the right nostril goes mainly to the right side of the brain. Areas of the brain that receive information directly from the olfactory bulbs include the amygdala and limbic cortex. These areas of the brain are involved in emotional responses. Signals from the olfactory bulbs also go to the frontal cortex, where identification of odors probably occurs.
Researchers believe that the results of the right/left nostril experiments show that the two hemispheres of the brain participate in different aspects of olfactory perception. The right side of the brain may be dominant for emotional processing of this information. This may be why a more emotional response is elicited by smells entering the right nostril.
Does this thread smell funny to you?
Both of my nostrils are very well-adjusted, thank you. None of those kinky domination games for them! Good old fashioned missionary position aroma identification is just fine. Anything else is perverted and ungodly.