While describing the physiology of the subtle body two important channels were mentioned: the ida and the pingala. The ida ends in the left nostril and pingala in the right nostril. The vital energy that flows through these two nadis flows in and out through the respective nostrils along with the physical breath.
Most readers may have noticed that human beings do not generally breathe through both the nostrils simultaneously. Only one of the two nostrils--and of course only one of the two nadis--is fully open at any given time. Yogis have observed that the vital breath flows through each nostril for approximately two and a half ghatikas--one ghatika is equal to about twenty-four minutes. So roughly every hour the vital breath changes from one nostril to the other.
The vital breath--which is vital energy (prana) plus physical breath--is called svara, and the movement of this svara from nostril to nostril is called udaya (rise). Consequently, the ancient and occult system of knowledge (shastra) that deals with the significance of the changes in vital breath is called the svara-udaya-shastra.
The vital breath flowing through the right nostril is known as the sun (surya) svara, which is warm and excitable. The vital breath in the left nostril is called the moon (chandra) svara and is always cool and peaceful. When the vital breath changes from one nostril to the other, the action is known as the svara samkranti. Occasionally, when both the nostrils open up, this rare phenomenon is the vishuvat-kala, or equal time. Texts refer to the open nostril as puma (full) and the closed nostril as rikta (empty). The outgoing breath is referred to as nirguna (without attributes) and the incoming breath as saguna (with attributes).
Many great yogis of the past have carefully observed the relationship between the various events that happen in nature, the human physical and psychological states, and the changes of the vital breath from one nostril to the other. They have recorded this knowledge in several texts, which are diligently hidden and revealed only rarely to serious students of yoga and astrology. Yogis claim that a master of the svarodaya shastra can predict the future course of events on earth, can prevent and cure diseases (both physical and mental), and can influence the work of nature in matters such as the determination of sex of an unborn child. Not all these methods are known, and the available texts mention only a few. Many are said to have been lost because of the break in the ancient guru-shishya (teacher-student) tradition. The rest have to be learned from the master guru.
The Five Elements (Tattvas) of the Vital Breath
As already mentioned, the vital breath flows through each nostril for about an hour. But within this hour, the quality, intensity, and power of the vital breath does not remain the same throughout. There are at least five subtle, important, and noticeable changes that the vital breath undergoes. These changes are traditionally correlated to the five elements: earth (prithvi), water (ap), fire (tejas), air (vayu), and space (akasha). These are of course not the material elements of everyday life, but states of subtle matter that affect the physical, emotional, and psychic processes of the human body.
There are many outer (physical) and inner (meditational) ways of identifying the five elements of the vital breath. Each element has many and varied characteristics that help in their identification. Some of these are: nature of breath, time of flow, type of breath, manner of flow, length of flow, geometrical shape, color, taste, experience of seed (bija) mantra, and physical manifestation. Some of these are described below.
Determining the Geometric Shape of the Breath Element
Each breath element has a characteristic geometric shape. Earth is a square, water is a crescent, fire is a triangle, air is a circle, and space is only a point (bindu).
The outer method of determining the geometrical shape of the breath elements is to hold a small, clean mirror or a piece of clean glass near the open nostril and then breathe out at a normal rate. The shape that the condensation takes indicates the shape of the breath element.
The inner method of finding the geometrical shape, the color, and the taste of the breath elements is as follows:
1. Find a quiet, clean place, far away from human habitation and worldly distractions.
2. Sit either in the siddhasana (adept’s posture) or the padmasana (lotus posture).
3. Having taken up either of the two asanas, perform the shanmukhi (six-faced) mudra. This mudra is done by gently pressing and shutting the ears with the thumbs, the eyes with the index fingers, the nose with the middle fingers, the lips with the ring fingers and letting the pinkie fingers rest on the chin. At first concentrate on your chosen deity and then slowly try to clear your mind of all disturbing thoughts.
If, after the mind has become concentrated, you see a yellow or golden square and your mouth becomes filled with a sweet taste, this is the flow of the earth element. If a white crescent appears along with an astringent taste in the mouth, this is the water element. The appearance of a red triangle and a pungent taste on the tongue symbolizes the flow of the fire element. The air element will materialize as a green circle and a sour taste in the mouth. The space element will become visible as multicolored dots. At the same time the mouth will fill up with a bitter taste.