Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati

On waking in the morning, swara yoga gives us a way to literally “get out of the bed on the right side” and “start off on the right foot”. It advises that as soon as you wake up, before even getting out of bed, you become aware of your breath and check through which nostril you are breathing most freely. That nostril is the dominant one for you at that time.

If it is the left nostril, it means ida nadi is flowing, your mood is more receptive, you are more introverted, the right side of your brain is directing operations and your parasympathetic nervous system is functioning, making you more reflective. If it is the other nostril, the right nostril, which is conducting the air more freely, then a whole other side of your personality is ready to display itself. The extra breath in the right nostril correlates with extra prana stimulating the pingala nadi so you are extroverted and feel more vital and cheerful. The highly sensitive nerves in the nasal passage are stimulating the left side of the brain and you’re in a logical mood. The sympathetic nervous system is geared up and you are ready to respond fast to external situations. The swara yogi knows all of this within instants of waking up just as a skilled mechanic can diagnose the basic state of a car’s engine by the sound, moments after having turned on the ignition.

To celebrate this self-awareness we can simply touch the face or body on the side of the dominant nostril, affirming that we have received this message about our operating systems from our body, and giving it a friendly pat, like we would any other useful animal that has done its job well.

We are then advised to get out of bed on the side corresponding to the dominant nostril and to carefully put the corresponding foot, also, on the ground first. Why? Is this merely a superstition? Rather I feel it is a part of a learning process. We need always to apply our knowledge for it to become wisdom. Each day we should start as we mean to continue, notice the way the energy is flowing and move with the energy. Because this training takes place very early in the morning, and often when we are still half asleep, with the subconscious and unconscious near to the surface of our awareness, we are freeing ourselves from old habits of stumbling into the day any old way, releasing ourselves from tamas and daily carrying a grain of sattwic awareness into our storehouse of samskaras.

So this is a simple and friendly ritual that we can perform to tune us into our body, mind, feelings and the other equipment that we have inherited for our stay on earth. Swara yoga is a yoga which encourages us to tune into the natural flows of nature, the cycles of sun, moon, earth, our aims, bodies, thoughts, desires and actions and through them learn more about our inner nature and true purpose here.

In nada yoga, each note is called a swara. The word ‘swara’ comes from the root swa – indicating one’s own inner nature, and ra – meaning ‘shining forth’. Etymologically (historically speaking) ‘swara’ means ‘the sound of your own breath’, and you can often tell which is the open nostril by listening to the sound of the breath: the open nostril has a deeper pitch, the more closed nostril has a narrower opening at that time and therefore the pitch of the sound of the breath coming through that nostril is higher. The swara of the breath changes from time to time. By listening to the subtle inner sounds or by constant awareness of the nuances of our breath, we are continually reminded of our purpose here on earth and guided as to what are the correct, auspicious actions we can perform from time to time.