There is a thing called the Nadi system, which this, I think is something that most of you guys may already be aware of. So there are two Nadis, like Ida-Nadi and Pingala-Nadi, at least there’s many others, Sushumna and all that but for our purposes these two were well described, they run from the base of your spine all the way to middle of your head and Ida-adi is the cooling relaxing one, Pingala is the activating and warming one. What is strange to me as a neurologist is that, this is very strangely similar to these two components of what is called the Autonomic Nervous System, which also run in this kind of pathway from the brain to the bottom of the spine and they have this thing called the ‘Parasympathetic’, which is cooling and relaxing and the ‘Sympathetic’ which is supposed to be warming and activating. So, the Parasympathetic is mostly meant for you to relax and eat and digest your food. Sympathetic is supposed to be for like if you see a predator, you want to run away, you want to escape from it, and of course, then after the Nadi’s, you go on to the Chakra system, which I am not really getting into because I have some interesting ideas of how they might correlate to neurological processes. But I am not really built they have left them yet. So I don’t want to speak something without at least some circumstantial evidence in its favor.
Coming back to the Nadi’s, the Nadi’s were suppose to be controlled through breathing, so that if you inhale through the left nostril, you’re supposed to activate your Ida-Nadi and like cool down, inhale through your right nostril, you’re supposed to activate the Pingala Nadi and you’re supposed like activate and warm yourselves. So there’s some kind of beginning evidence in scientific literature that there is actually this pattern, that if you have certain alternating nostril breathing, you can have changes in your autonomic nervous system. Right now, most of these are not published in very high-grade journals, it’s not a huge field of research, whether it’s interesting that people are starting to find some evidence that this is true.
There was this article for instance, ‘Assessment of the Effects of Pranayama on Parasympathetic Nervous System’, that was here, this Hemisphere specific EEG related to alternate nostril breathing and these are all like reasonably respected foreign journals. They are not specifically only like people who do yoga will publish in there. Then again there’s this paper which I actually saw a few months ago, very fascinating which says breathing is a fundamental rhythm of brain function and this paper actually was published purely from non-Indian countries. I don’t think any people of Indian origin in that author list either and they basically said that, somehow there’s some correlation between breathing in and out and like some rhythms they are able to detect in the brains cortex, like electrical rhythms, the functioning.
So, I think what was most fascinating, is that I happened to find this paragraph in this English translation of Yoga Vasishta, relationship in Prana and Manas which are very close in the body is like the driver and his chariot, when the Prana acts, the Manas reacts. So when you want high achievement, of high mind control, you want to really control and master Prana. I think it’s fascinating that people had come up with some similar ideas so long ago, but I don’t think the bridge has been made between these two approaches because in this paper, I think this may be like one throwaway line, says ‘there’s some evidence from Indian tradition of Yoga that breathing may be related to mental function’. But they don’t really like extensively cite any of these works. But, I think, is sad because if this is true that means these guys actually did figure out this very crucial and important relationship and breathing, of course, was not the only technology that the Tantric and Yoga practitioners had to manipulate the nervous system. They had this mantra, which was of course sound repetition Yantra, which was visualizing geometrical patterns, Chakra and Mudra and Asana, of course, various postures and gestures and most importantly, Hatha Yoga was also a very important tool for this.