In modern physics all matter including the air we breathe is said to consist of ions, microscopic electrically charged particles which are either positive or negative. The intense activity of these positive or negative ions on the area immediately surrounding them is referred to as the ionic field. Ionic concentrations affect the consciousness in many ways. In order to demonstrate this, let us apply the ionic field theory to pranayama.
When a student commences pranayama, the first one he usually learns is nadi shodhana which means purification of the nadis. The method of practice is as follows. First breathe in through the left nostril, keeping the right closed. Hold the breath, then closing the left nostril breathe out through the right and hold the breath. Breathe in through the right; hold the breath; breathe out through the left; hold the breath. The mouth should be closed throughout. This constitutes one round. The relative durations of inhalation, retention, exhalation, retention are altered at different stages according to ability or need of the student. Let us now look at the different stages of nadi shodhana and consider their effect on the ionic field.
The negative ion concentration in ida nadi quickly increases from its rest or basal concentration during left nostril inhalation. It then reaches a maximum and begins to fall off gradually, because the concentration of ions is greater in the regions of low pranic density and less in regions of high pranic density. For example, there is a high ionic concentration in the region of prana, udana, samana and a low concentration in apana and vyana. The ionic concentration is thus not homogeneous yet.
When the breath is held, two main processes occur:
During exhalation through the right nostril it is principally the heat component of the energy produced by the above ionic annihilation process which is liberated. Pingala nadi has a very small concentration of positive ions and is thus prepared to receive the influx of positive ions in the next part of the round. Inhalation through the right nostril.
Inhalation through the right nostril increases the positive ion concentration in pingala. It rises quickly to a maximum level and then decreases slowly in the same way described for ida nadi. Now we have the following situation:
With retention, the ionic concentrations are homogenized and the ionic migration and annihilation effect continues.
At this point, let us pause and consider what happens in normal breathing. There is a connection with our normal breath and nadi shodhana and we shall see what may be applied from our observation of the normal breath to our study of nadi shodhana.
In normal breathing there is an alteration in the flow of breath in the nostrils. If you check which nostril is more free to breathe through at different times you will observe that sometimes it is the right, sometimes the left, and occasionally both flow equally. The science of these alternating flows is called swara, yoga. In swara yoga it states that in the average healthy individual, one nostril remains predominantly open for approximately one hour and ten minutes; both nostrils then flow equally for ten minutes, after which the other nostril remains predominantly open for one hour and ten minutes, then again both flow equally, and so on throughout the day. This is readily observable and can be verified at any time.
Here, we will try to explain why such a phenomenon occurs and what it has to do with bio and ionoplasmic field theory. As explained earlier there are two ionic migration effects taking place:
These effects take place virtually simultaneously during normal breathing since, even when one nostril flow is predominant, there is still a flow through the other. It becomes clear that after some time, the rate of absorption of the positive ions from pingala by ida will equal the rate of absorption of negative ions by pingala, i.e. an equilibrium will occur. This is an unstable equilibrium, however, and is present only for a very short time.
To make the situation more clear, let us compare it with an hourglass. Think of the upper part of the hourglass as the left nostril and the lower as the right nostril. Sand is passing from the upper to the lower part, i.e. ionic migration is taking place from ida to pingala. At a certain point the amount of sand in the upper part will equal the amount of sand in the lower part, but this will only be for a very short time, as soon the sand in the lower part will be greater than the sand in the upper. When the sand in the upper part has almost run out, we turn the hour glass and the sand continues to fall as before.
The situation which occurs when there is an equal amount of sand in the lower and upper parts of the hourglass corresponds to the state of unstable equilibrium. The turning of the hourglass when there is still a little sand in the upper part corresponds to the cyclic change in the flow of the nostrils. Also, as described above, there is always some residual ionic charge in the nadi when this change occurs.
Now we will consider the way in which this knowledge of normal breathing can be applied to our study of nadi shodhana pranayama.
In nadi shodhana, we are in effect mirroring the behaviour of the cyclic changes occurring during normal breathing, by purposely breathing in through the left nostril, holding, and breathing out through the right and so on. The difference is that in normal breathing, both nostrils remain equally open or free for a time, whereas in nadi shodhana the breath is held.
Thus, there is a connection between breath retention and having both nostrils open. In swara yoga it states that when ida and pingala nadis are both flowing equally, then sushumna, the nadi responsible for the development of higher yogic abilities, starts functioning.
Therefore, it may be postulated that during retention of breath, sushumna nadi is brought into operation. This is the nadi which is active when the point of unstable equilibrium discussed earlier occurs. This postulate has proved considerably accurate in the study of nadi shodhana so for the time being we shall hold it to be a fact. Breath retention thus awakens sushumna nadi. In all of the classical works on yoga it is stated that for full spiritual benefits from yoga sadhana, try to ensure that the sushumna nadi is flowing when practicing meditation or higher techniques.