So far in the first two stages of nadi shodhana pranayama we have described alternate manipulation and control of breath through the two nostrils'. In other words, the aim has been to direct the flow of breath through each of the nostrils separately. There are various good reasons for these practices. Firstly, the ability to control inhalation and exhalation is increased and the breathing rate is decreased at will. From this comes improved respiration, which results in more vitality and better health, as well as greater calmness in daily life situations. Remember that the breathing rate is directly related to emotions. In general, fast unrhythmical breathing is associated with anxiety, anger and other debilitating, negative emotions, while slow, rhythmical breathing is connected with relaxation, friendship, well being and other positive emotions. Practice of stages 1 and 2 nadi shodhana pranayama can help to bring about a more harmonious attitude and way of life.
There are other important benefits obtainable from the first two stages of nadi shodhana. As previously explained the breathing process is intimately linked with the flow of prana within the pranic body2. Th e alternate breathing helps to unblock the channels through which this prana flows. Furthermore, the flow of prana through ida (moon) nadi and pingala (sun) nadi is balanced. These two channels play a large part in determining whether one thinks, on the one hand, or performs externally orientated activities; that is, whether one is extroverted or introverted. For good health it is essential that there is a reasonably equal balance between these two opposite modes of being during the day and nadi shodhana stages 1 and 2 help to bring this about1.
Another important benefit of balancing the flows of breath in the two nostrils is that the ida and pingala flows are simultaneously equalized. This leads to peace of mind, a rare occurrence in the modern world. Furthermore, this condition of balance is conducive to the spontaneous occurrence of meditation.
Nadi shodhana stages 1 and 2 are also essential to prepare the lungs and the nervous system for the next stage, namely breath retention. Without developing the ability to breathe slowly and with control, breath retention in the way practised in pranayama is impossible. It is easy to hold the breath once, but to hold the breath a number of times successively with intermittent inhalations and exhalations requires practice. This is one of the functions of the practice of nadi shodhana so far introduced: to accustom the body for the higher practices involving breath retention.
The inner retention of breath is called many names in Sanskrit: it is known as antar, antaranga, abhyantara or poorna kumbhaka. We will adopt the name antar kumbhaka, where the word antar means 'inner' and kumbhaka means 'breath retention'. In other words, antar kumbhaka is the practice where the breath is held inside the lungs.
Antar kumbhaka has a marked influence on the flow of prana throughout the pranic body. Since there is a close relationship between the pranic body and mind, antar kumbhaka in turn allows one to gain some control over the mind. Unfortunately, most people have a mind that is in a continual state of disturbance and fluctuation. Antar kumbhaka slows down the tumultuous mind and transforms it into a state of peaceful one-pointedness, a prerequisite for the state of meditation.
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