For millennia yogis have been telling us that man's being extends far beyond what the naked eye can perceive. Of course we are aware of the empirical body and mind through our capacity to think and cognize. But man is more than intellect; he is more than a mass of matter. If we were able to experience the nature of the body through our subtle eyes, what would we see? The swara yogis discovered that within man's physical structure is an underlying network of positive/negative energy currents which are responsible for all the activities of the body and mind. Prana shakti is the positive energy which gives life and motivates all the vital functions, and manas shakti gives rise to the conscious aspects and stimulates the mental faculties. Though these twin energies have their own unique properties, neither of them can operate independently. Wherever life or prana manifests there is also consciousness or mind, and vice versa. Desires spring from the mind, and inevitably lead to action. This constant interplay of forces animates the body and mind with life.
According to swara yoga, the positive/negative energy structure motivates the various physical functions of the body by means of pranic air currents, or prana vayus. The ten vayus regulate the distribution of energy throughout the body. Of these, the five major vayus, namely prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana, have the most influence.
Firstly, the prana vayu, situated in the thoracic region, absorbs incoming air elements and creates upward oscillations of energy. The opposite action of apana causes energy to oscillate downwards for the elimination of urine and faeces and the secretion of hormones in the reproductive organs. Energy production begins with prana vayu and ends with apana. In between are various intermediate stages which are determined by the primary action of prana and apana.
The next vayu is samana, which stimulates assimilation of nutrients in the digestive tract. Udana vayu manifests in the throat and face, allowing swallowing and facial expression. The fifth major vayu, vyana, regulates all physical movement by controlling the circulation of food and nutrients throughout the body.
Of all the vayus, prana and apana are exceedingly powerful, and their effects dominate over all the other stages of energy production. In fact, in the Upanishads and other yogic texts it is written that when the opposing actions of prana and apana are united, all the other vayus are automatically harmonized.
The rishis explained that the positive/negative energy charges in the atmosphere and body invigorate the ten vayus and invoke particular physiological and psychological responses. Recent scientific research has come to the same conclusion. Investigators exposed healthy, dynamic people to an environment with a high positive ion content and found that this caused lethargy and drowsiness. Some subjects even complained of severe headaches or respiratory congestion. Prolonged exposure to positive ions produced euphoria and mental agitation. On the other hand, after exposure to a high concentration of negative ions, physical and mental capacities were revitalized and invigorated.
In other investigations, scientists kept plants and animals in an atmosphere of low ionization which resulted in inhibition of their proper growth. When the ions were completely removed from the air, the creatures died. This indicates that as well as stimulating particular body functions, a certain degree of ionization is required just to uphold life.
The influence of positive/negative charges is clearly seen in the effects of our technological civilization on human behaviour. Ecologists have pointed out that the pollution created by modern technology is destroying essential negative ions, thus unnaturally overbalancing positive ionization and causing an ever rising rate of physical and mental depression. This has led scientists in Europe, America and the Soviet Union to devise ionizing machines for rebalancing the ionic charges in the atmosphere. In fact, the use of ionizers has become so widespread that they are starting to be considered essential for survival in the urban environment.
The invention of such a machine has one very significant implication. Modern science has been able to define the laws of energy in relation to the macro-cosmos very precisely. However, rather than depending on machinery for survival, we can learn from swara yoga to utilize the same energy principles in relation to our own inner environment. It is possible to live in total harmony just by manipulating our own physical energy to coincide with the rhythms of nature, thereby deepening our knowledge of ourselves and the whole cosmos.
We have established that biological sustenance is dependent upon breathing. Many yogic texts support this conclusion. Perhaps the clearest reference is in the second chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (v.3), which declares that: "As long as breathing continues, life exists; when the breath departs, so too does life. Therefore regulate the breath." So where do we begin regulating our breath? The nose is a good place to start, because it is relatively easy to manipulate the flow of air through the nostrils. For this reason, swara yoga - begins with the examination of air flow in the nose.
The nose is very significant, for at the root of the nasal cavity is a uniquely designed prana-detecting device. This is a thin, perforated bone, known in medical terminology as the cribriform plate of the ethmoid bone. Within these perforations the minute filaments of the olfactory nerve reside. They relay information to the brain concerning the constituents of the air. When electrically charged ions contact these filaments, the brain and main nervous system automatically become energized. This charging travels to the limbic system of the brain, in which perception is transformed into experience. So breathing directly affects our emotional responses to life, and conversely the arousal of different emotions is reflected in the breath. If one breathes through the mouth, the entire air mass and prana travel straight down the trachea without stimulating the brain and nervous system. Therefore the activation of the entire nervous system is dependent on nasal breathing.
Once the air elements have been detected in the nasal cavity, they are then processed by the lungs. In order to fully utilize the air elements in the body a certain chemical breakdown has to take place, otherwise it is something like filling a sports car with unrefined diesel fuel and expecting top running performance.
Negative ions are the body's energizers because they act as catalysts for the ionization and oxygenation of the blood, and the release of carbon dioxide from the bloodstream They also aid in the generation of heat for stabilizing body temperature. Then, after being assimilated into the blood, they facilitate digestion through further chemical breakdown in the digestive tract. Therefore, if there is a predominance of positive ions, the combustion process is retarded. Thus the body thermostat lowers, oxygenation and ionization of the blood decrease, and poor digestion results. Ultimately, proper functioning of the entire body is inhibited. This pattern of energy distribution from organ to organ shows how the various prana vayus are affected by the positive and negative energies in the body.
During inhalation, the body registers and adapts itself to the conditions of the universe, and during exhalation information is sent back into the cosmos describing the state of the internal environment. But the messages transmitted between the two realms are in a code. The swara yogi knows how to decipher this code by sharpening his awareness and gaining control over the incoming cosmic force. When you realize the significance of breathing through the right and left nostrils, you will experience the body and mind as mere instruments of the cosmic energy. And when you breathe rhythmically to the syncopation of nature's tune, it will not only lead to your own personal benefit, but also to the realization that every speck of creation is a tiny fragment of one massive organism. Therefore each individual's conscious effort can aid the healthy and harmonious evolution of the whole organism.