The Sanskrit word, swara, has many definitions and applications. In yoga, briefly stated, swara pertains to the recognition of rhythm, pulsation, or wave of the universe tracing these wave forms and patterns back to their source. Hence Swara Yoga discloses and informs us about both the music of the Celestial spheres, but also all of creation, right down to our daily activities. .As such it concerns itself with the subtle (and mostly invisible) finer forces which underlie the contraction and expansion of the entire universe including the human body in all its aspects (prana or winds (vayus) as well as thought processes..
Swara Yoga is an ancient spiritual science that deals with the various qualities of the flow of Prana (the source of the life force) in the universe and as such in the body and mind. This Prana Shakti (evolutionary energy) emanating from beginningless Source permeates all of creation as well as the human form governing all aspects of life. By consciously knowing and working with with these corresponding energetic forces in terms of the elements, the mind, and their psycho-energetic relationships constitute tha basis of swara yoga. At first this relationship is developed by getting in touch with the breath as it flows in both nostrils. Such a conscious relationship has subatomic, atomic, cellular, creative/artistic, and healing modalities. It is at once has evolutionary, practical, and spiritual purport.
The ancient Rishis believed that learning to read the breath and then attuning it in harmony with nature's finer forces, that the yogi can learn to read the outer and inner universe (macrocosm and microcosm) and in that way come into a profound harmony as well as in evolutionary function. Swara yoga teachings can also act as an elaborate system of astrological prediction and guide everyday tantric activities. In this sense pranayama is said to be a specific aspect of swara yoga. Swara Yoga is thought to have been taught by Shiva to Shakti and in this way brought to the human being.
The science then starts with observing that the breath has many subtle characteristics which can be identified as to cause and effect revealing nature's deeper pulsations - thus forming a conscious and direct relationship with the evolutionary power and intelligence. The assumption is that, all else being equal, in a healthy person "normally"the dominant nostril will alternate from one nostril to the other approximately every 90 minutes. The flow of the prana in the left (ida) and right (pingala) nadis retain a correspondence in the left and right nostrils respectively.
There are many specific factors which influence this flow (swarodaya) including the lunar cycles, the time of day, etc. Briefly, being conscious of what nostril is dominant gives us information about the suitableness of certain activities. The left nostril dominance indicates ida dominance and the right nostril the pingala. The central import of ida and pingala nadis are found in any good hatha yoga book; so they won't be listed here.
An important awareness for the yogi is that when the nostrils are balanced, the energy can flow into the sushumna nadis – being harmonized and synchronized, our latent non-dual dynamics becomes activated. This is best for meditation and spiritual practices. These flows can be easily observed and moved any time during the day or even while sleeping through the application of awareness (cit prana) if when wisdom prompts.
Sleeping on the left side usually opens the right swara, while laying on the left side opens the flow through the right swara. The swaras can also be opened through placing pressure on the opposite armpits and other methods some of which can be purely mental.
This is only the rudiments of Swara Yoga which as stated is a vast subject, and is said to encompass the whole science of pranayama. As pranayama is a technique within hatha yoga, then in this sense, swara yoga techniques are also part of hatha yoga (at least those that lead to spiritual liberation). Thus in the application of swara yoga to hatha yoga pay attention not only to the quantity of the breath through each nostril, but its many more subtle qualities such as position in the nostril, direction of swirl, degree of coarseness, and many other tell-tale characteristics. This differentiation of the myriad qualities of the breath as it flows through the nostrils can be taken to an extreme by shamans and worldly minded people in order to gain many kinds of information and siddhi; but according to yogis the science is valuable for mukti – liberation, and as such that is its best usage.
What is of value and can be learned very easily is to balance the breath in both nostrils evenly before and during meditation (called sushumna breath). Rather than making this another chore to do, perhaps it is best to phrase this as ALLOWING for the left and right breaths to become even. Anyone can easily get in touch with which nostril is blocked by temporarily closing off the opposite nostril one at a time. The nostril which makes the highest pitch sound is the one that is most constricted. Unless we have a deviated septum or other physical illness we can consciously learn to open up the clogged nostril simply through conscious intention once the awareness and energy is focused (chit prana). When the breath is so balanced, then there is another shift in consciousness that directly relates deeply to the core nervous system (cutting past the superficial layering and filtering of the intellect) that creates a definitive ontological shift from dualistic imbalance into simultaneous co-arising non-dual co-participation – into harmony and unity – in short, into a subjective experiential appreciation of yoga that is in harmony with the natural Mind. Such non-dual breath affects the mind profoundly; while the energy is said to move in the central/non-dual nadi, the sushumna, rather than in the polar nadis of ida and pingala.
The consistent conscious application of chit prana, which obeys the principle that states "where ever the mind goes so does one’s energy and vice versa" prevents our energy from becoming imbalanced and dissipated (according to where our attention is focused and thought patterns). Increasing our awareness of the subtle nuances of conscious awareness pertaining to life's subtle energetics (cit-prana) has powerful positive benefits for humankind in all aspects of daily life as well as in conscious sleep. It of course has tremendous value in order to set down a basic framework and support base for meditation, as the mind becomes tamed and no longer wanders. If the mind or energy begins to lose focus, dissipate or wander -- if it does become agitated, then returning to the even and balanced breath (called sushumna breath) will again help dissolve the citta-vrtti. Although very powerful for meditation, the sushumna breath is not at all difficult to learn.
Reviews of eight recommended books on Swara Yoga translated into English follow.
1) "Swara Chintamani: Divination by Breath", translated S. Kannan, Sagar Publications, 18, Indian Oil Bhawan, New Janpath Market, New Delhi, 1972.
The title translates literally as "The Wish Fulfilling Jewel (Chintamani) of the Swara". It is a translation in English of the Swara Chintamani with appendices. The book takes on the form of a dialogue between Siva and his wife, Parvati
2) "Swara Yoga: The Tantric Science of Brain Breathing" , Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India, 1983.
This is the translation of the Shiva Swarodaya with an extensive introduction, analysis, and commentary. It also takes on the format of a dialogue between Shiva and Parvati.
3) "Secret Power of Tantrik Breathing", Swami Sivapriyananda, Abhinav Publications, E-37 Hauz Khas. New Delhi -110016, 1996.
A small but excellent thorough explanation written with clarity.
4) "Nature's Finer Forces and the Science of Breath (Pranayama Yoga)"was originally published in Sanskrit as "Science of the Breath and the Philosophy of the Tatwas"), written by Rama Prasad and published by the Theosophical Publishing Society, London, 1890.
From the preface:
"There is a good deal in the book that can only be shown to be true by long and diligent experiment. Those who are devoted to the pursuit of truth without prejudice will no doubt be ready to wait before they form any opinion about such portions of the book. Others it is useless to reason with."
5) Breath, Mind, and Consciousness, Harish Johari, Destiny Books, One Park St., Rochester, VT., 1989.
The most available book in the West and a reasonable and practical introduction, but not an in depth presentation.
6) "Science of Yoga- Chapter Four -- Pranayama Section- Sub-Chapter on Swara Yoga (pages 384-392, Swami Sivananda, The Divine Life Society, India.
This is one of my favorite all around books which is divided in three sections (Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Pranayama). In the pranayama section, Swami Sivananda describes Swara Yoga sufficiently. This is Volume Four in the Science of Yoga series which can be bought at any Sivananda Yoga center or via the www.sivananda.org web site. I think IYI also carries this series.
7) "The Path of Fire and Light -- Vol. 1" , Swami Rama, Himalayan Intl. Inst. Of Yoga Science, RR 1, Box 400, Honesdale, PA., 18431, 1986
Perhaps Swami Rama's most advanced and still generally available book which contains a full chapter on Swara Yoga.
8) "Swara Yoga" by Swami Sivananda, Divine Life Society, India, second but limited edition, 2000. This long out of print book is now again available.
Books 1, 2, 3, 4,and 8 are the most detailed, while 5, 6, and 7 are the most easily accessed.
The tatwas are the five modifications of the great Breath. Acting upon prakriti, this Great breath throws it into five states, having distinct vibratory motions, and performing different functions. The first outcome of the Evolutionary State of parabrahma is the akasa tatwa.
After this come in order the vayu, the tejas, the apas and the prithvi. They are variously known as mahabhutas. The word, akasa, is generally translated into English by the word, ether....
It will be very interesting to trace the development of man and the development of the world according to the theory of the tatwas.
The akasa is the most important of all the tatwas. It must, as a matter of course, precede and follow every change of state on every plane of life. Without this there can be no manifestation or cessation of forms. It is out of akasa that every form comes, and it is in akasa that every form lives. The akasa is full of forms in their potential state. It intervenes between every two of the five tatwas, and between every two of the five principles.
The evolution of the tatwas is always part of the evolution of a certain definite form. Thus the manifestation of the primary tatwas is with the definite aim of giving what we may call a body, a Prakritic form to the Iswara. In the bosom of the Infinite Parabrahma, there are hidden unnumerable such centers. One center takes under its influence a certain portion of the Infinite, and there we find first of all coming into existence the akasa tatwa. The extent of this akasa limits the extent of the Universe, and out of it, the Iswara is to come....
The tatwas, as we have already seen, are the modifications of Swara. Regarding Swara, we find in our book: “In the Swara are the Vedas and the shastras, and in the Swara is music. All the world is in the Swara; Swara is the spirit itself.”.
Swara is “the current of the life-wave”. It is that wavy motion which is the cause of the evolution of cosmic undifferentiated matter into the differentiated universe, and the involution of this into the primary state of non-differentiation, and so on, in and out, forever and ever. From whence does this motion come? This motion is the spirit itself. The word atma used in the book, itself carries the idea of eternal motion, coming as it does from the root at, eternal motion; and it may be significantly remarked, that the root at is connected with (and in fact is simply another form of) the roots ah, breath, and as, being. All these roots have for their original the sound produced by the breathing of animals.
In The Science of Breath the symbol for inspiration is sa, and for expiration ha. It is easy to see how these symbols are connected with the roots as and ah. The current of life-wave spoken of above is technically called Hansachasa, i.e., the motion of ha and sa. The word, Hansa, which is taken to mean God, and is made so much of in many Sanskrit works, is only the symbolic representation of the eternal processes of life – ha and sa.
The primeval current of life-wave is, then, the same which in man assumes the form of inspiratory and expiratory motion of the lungs, and this is the all-pervading source of the evolution and the involution of the universe.
The book goes on: “It is the Swara that has given form to the first accumulations of the divisions of the universe; the Swara causes involution and evolution; the Swara is God Himself, or more properly the great Power (Mahashwara).” The Swara is the manifestation of the impression on matter of that power which in man is known to us as the power that knows itself. It is to be understood that the action of this power never ceases. It is ever at work, and evolution and involution are the very necessity of its unchangeable existence.
The Swara has two different states. The one is known on the physical plane as the sun breath, the other as the moon-breath.
By Rama Prasad, from "Nature's Finer Forces and the Science of Breath (Pranayama Yoga)", originally published in Sanskrit as "Science of the Breath and the Philosophy of the Tatwas").
Related Resources on the Web:
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras; Pada III (Vibhuti Pada), Sutras III.41-46. Also see III.31 commentary on the Kurma Nadi
"Nature's Finer Forces and the Science of Breath (Pranayama Yoga)" was originally published in Sanskrit as "Science of the Breath and the Philosophy of the Tatwas"), by Rama Prasad, is available here in PDF format,
Swara Yoga (according to the Bihar School of Yoga). Much excellent data about Swara Yoga at http://www.swarayoga.org
Swarodaya Vigjnan: A Scientific Analysis of the Nasal Cycle and its Applications, by Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, International. Centre for Yoga Education and Research, Pondicherry
Bhuta Shuddhi (presented by Swami Rama)
Presentation of Bhuta Shuddhi by Swami Satyasangananada Saraswati
Energy Bodies, Koshas, Kayas, and Sharira
Chakra Purification Meditation
Chakra and Energy Body Healing
An Energy Body Approach to Hatha Yoga Asana Practice
Hatha Yoga Topics Index
HeartMind Yoga Home
The Variety of Yoga Teachings and Teachers: How to Contact Your Inner Teacher (a large document)
Hatha Yoga Purification Page Index
Bandhas in Hatha Yoga Practice
HeartMind Links Page containing links to many hatha yoga classical texts
Rainbow Body Network Home