The Science and Practice of Swara Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bombay, 1962, originally printed in YOGA, 1963

The most natural activity is the act of breathing. Each one of us breathes regularly by day as well as by night. This process of breathing appears to be very ordinary, but for the yogi it is most important and full of meaning. Generally, it is the belief that we breathe in equal proportion through both the nostrils, but this is not so. Normally we breathe more from one nostril and less from the other and then a changeover takes place.

Medical science has not thrown much light on this matter, but in India there is the ancient tradition of swara yoga. Astrology is incomplete without knowledge of the swaras. One who has fully realized swara yoga is regarded as the greatest of yogis. The target of self-realization has to be hit by shooting the arrow of the mind drawn on the bow of the breath. From the spiritual standpoint, the prana or life breath is not only the preserver of the physical body, it opens the way to higher life.

Swara means the life breath which is incessantly passing through the nostrils. It is the breath flowing from the right and the left nostrils. These are related with ida and pingala nadis, which represent the lunar and solar forces. The right breath is called the surya swara and the left breath is called the chandra swara.

When there is air flowing from the right nostril, it should be taken that the surya swara is flowing. If the same is the case with the left nostril, then the chandra swara is flowing. The flow of breath in the nostrils changes every hour. This is the swara cycle. For one hour surya swara flows and for the next hour chandra swara flows. The time of changeover is called the transition period. At this time the breath flows through both nostrils equally, and sushumna or shoonya swara is said to be functioning.

According to the Swara Shastras, the undertaking of any auspicious work meets with success if it is done when the left nostril or chandra swara is flowing. In the same way, if any particularly difficult work is to be undertaken, it should be done when the right nostril or surya swara flows. Any work commenced when the sushumna or shoonya swara flows tends to be unsuccessful. For that reason, it is never considered desirable to undertake any worldly activity when sushumna flows. Of course, there is no harm in continuing work that is already in progress, but no new undertaking should be commenced.

Chandra swara activities

When chandra swara flows, steady and good work should be commenced. All auspicious deeds should be performed, for example, going on pilgrimages, giving alms, marriage ceremonies, commencement of studies, sacrifices, seeking friends etc. should be done at this time. Actions like entering a new order of life, seeking initiation, installing an image of God, seeking mantra siddhi, seeking salvation, performing guru pooja, bringing an animal into the house, digging wells and tanks, constructing buildings, saving money, meeting with friends, meeting one’s superior, entering a city or village, gathering things like fuel, practising arts like music, dancing, etc., or confiding some matter to one’s superior are things which meet with success if chandra swara is flowing. Similarly, wearing new clothes, ornaments, etc., applying tilak, taking divine herbs, diagnosing diseases, or any substantial undertaking should be commenced when chandra swara flows.

Surya swara activities

When the right nostril flows, one should undertake difficult works or works which are not easily successful. When surya swara dominates, the body has more heat and energy. Therefore, such works as teaching, studying difficult subjects, boarding a ship, learning the use of weapons, going over a fort or a mountain, riding a horse or an elephant, learning the handling of machinery, crossing a river, overcoming an enemy and taking up arms should be undertaken. Difficult sadhanas should be practised when surya nadi flows. They will lead to success. For example, practising the virmantra, making a yantra, tantric sadhanas for controlling and summoning evil spirits, etc. should be undertaken when surya swara flows.

Physical exercises, taking medicines, bathing, tilling fields, drinking wine, eating food, physical labour, lending and borrowing money, removing evil spirits should all be done when surya nadi flows. If one wants to overcome someone stronger than oneself and success is difficult to achieve, that work should be undertaken when the surya swara flows. If work has to be done in a nearby place, one should set out for it when the surya swara flows. If one wants to undertake a journey and the surya swara is flowing, one should place the right foot first and start on the journey. In the evening, if the surya nadi does not flow and the opposite nadi flows against its scheduled time, then one should give up the work, because it will not succeed. Entering a house when surya nadi flows is deemed auspicious.

Shoonya swara activities

Dangerous works should be done when sushumna or shoonya swara flows. Good works bring no success if they are undertaken when the shoonya swara flows. In the swara shastra, sushumna is described as the dushta nadi, the wicked nadi. Only two things are considered fit to be undertaken then: either wicked or fierce deeds, or the practice of yoga. Therefore, when sushumna flows one must commence actions that lead to salvation. This is the best time for undertakings calculated to help in breaking the bondage of the world, sundering the fetters of maya and conquering lust, anger, infatuation, greed etc., and overcoming enemies.

In order to succeed in the practices of yoga, it is essential to have sushumna flowing. But if good works or works for worldly success are undertaken at this time, then the results are contrary. The time for the flow of sushumna is the period of transit of the two nadis. At this moment one should not worry about anything. Undertaking journeys when sushumna flows is likely to cause trouble. Serious affliction or even death may occur.

Contemplation on the elements

Along with the knowledge of swara, one has to reflect on the elements also. Some elements are auspicious and some are inauspicious. The elements are five in number: earth, water, fire, air and ether. By contemplation on the elements, it can be known which element is predominant. Both the swara and the elements are usually studied side by side. Knowledge of the swara would be incomplete without the tattwa. Knowledge of the tattwa helps in determining the exact result of each action.

Swara vijnana

In the swara shastras, the swara has been considered to be the form of the soul, the atma. Other references state that the swara represents all the vedas and the scriptures. What do these statements signify and why has such importance been given to the swara? This requires reflection. Really speaking, the life energy derives its movement through the medium of the swara. It is the life energy or the prana, the breath, which activates all our functions for knowledge or work in other fields. A person who relies completely on the strength of this life energy is able to make this insentient and gross body energized, active and knowledgeable.

The term veda means to know. The entire storehouse of knowledge is concealed within our being, but we have no instruments or methods to bring it out. The mind, the intellect, the chitta and the senses are the instruments for the use of that all- knowing purusha. The extent to which these instruments possess the necessary power is the degree to which the internal being reflects its knowledge. Prana is the sustainer of all these instruments. Prana again is the attribute of the purusha. Swara means prana. That is why swara has been described as synonymous with the soul, the brahman, the vedas and the shastras. One can realize the full importance of the swara when one is ready to take up the study and practice of yoga.

According to the swara shastras, liberation is achieved by a knowledge of the swara. One who knows how to distinguish the swaras becomes very happy. One who knows how the swara influences the pulse beats and the variations in its movements is able to acquire wealth, fame and moksha. A swara yogi becomes omniscient. He is able to know past events as well as the future. He is able to have progeny according to his desire, to win friends and conquer enemies.

Lord Shankara considered knowledge of swara to be the best of all knowledge and the greatest of all treasures. Vedanta, the vedas, shastras and puranas are all included in the science of swara. All the activities of an individual like waking, sleeping, eating and excretion depend upon the functioning of the swara or the prana. Swara is the sustainer and supporter of the entire creation, and it is only through the swara that its destruction is determined. The entire universe depends upon the swara.

Therefore, he alone is a yogi and a jnani who knows the science of swara, its different forms, its functions, its uses and its results. A study of swara yoga is extremely useful and leads to success and great accomplishments. The swara shastras go to the extent of saying that the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, follows the footsteps of one who has learned the science of swara, and wherever he goes, happiness and glory follow.

According to the observation of the sages, just as the syllable Aum, the brahmin and the sun are worshipped in the Vedas, even so the swara jnani is worshipped in this world. The person who knows the secrets of the three nadis (ida, pingala and sushumna) is a million times superior to anything in the world that brings happiness or joy. The sages regard the little knowledge acquired through the person who knows the science of swara as so invaluable that it could not be compensated for by payment of millions of coins.

Only a properly qualified student is able to attain perfection in this branch of knowledge, but it is useful for ordinary people as well. Anyone with an open heart and simple faith can hear the inner voice and receive its message through the medium of this science. The inner voice will never give you false guidance. Make the swara your medium to acquaint yourself with this inner voice.

The swara itself becomes the indicator or the signal of events. If any individual, depending upon the swara, decided to do or not to do his everyday work, he would succeed to the extent of seventy-five percent. By applying himself to those activities that are liable to be fulfilled, a person certainly gets name, fame and happiness. By not undertaking the activities that are likely to be unsuccessful, a person is saved from many troubles, wastage of time and money, distraction, restlessness, disappointment, internal conflicts and regrets.