Chanting, Awakening, and Kundalini Yoga with Snatam Kaur

It’s a simple fact, one that I often resist. If I want my life to change for the better, then I have to change.  To expect more peace, joy, and love to enter my life without any shifts on my part is kind of like expecting that my meals are somehow going to taste different even though I’m preparing them with the same ingredients in the exact same manner every day.

But according to Snatam Kaur, a sacred chant artist and Kundalini Yoga teacher whom I recently interviewed for Kripalu Perspectives, it doesn’t take as much effort as we might think to tip the scales and bring more serenity into our lives. “Little shifts can do so much,” she says.

In that vein, I experimented with a simple meditation Snatam advocates for those of us with busy minds who want to calm down and relieve anxiety. It’s called left-nostril breathing, and as yogic practices go, it’s about as simple as it gets.

Sit up straight and close your right nostril with your right thumb. Next, inhale as deeply and for as long as you can through your left nostril.  Exhale through your left nostril, too.  Snatam suggests mentally chanting sat, which means truth in Sanskrit, on the inhale, and nam, which means “the identity of the divine within me” on the exhale.

“Do it for just three minutes,” she says, “and it can change your energy.” According to Snatam, if you can eventually do left-nostril breathing for 11 minutes or more, it can help you be “less swayed by the traumas and dramas of life.”

Yogis believe that breathing through the left nostril accesses the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with the cooling energy of the moon. Thus, left-nostril breathing can help to lower blood pressure and calm an overstimulated nervous system.

This morning I woke up with the realization that my to-do list was quite long. Anxious about my ability to complete all the tasks in front of me, I gave left nostril breathing a try. As I sat up in bed with my eyes closed and breathed in and out through my left nostril, my overly active mind began to slow. I could feel my muscles relax, and I experienced a few moments of grace when in the space between the inhale and exhale I had the fleeting but delicious awareness that I was not thinking at all. I was merely floating in the now—just being, not doing, just me.  Such peace is possible when we give our brains the luxury of a time-out.

I’m adding left nostril breathing to my to-do list.  I have the feeling it’s going to make all the other tasks easier to complete.

Portland Helmich has been investigating natural health and healing for more than 15 years, as a host, reporter, writer, and producer.

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