Surya Bhedana Pranayama (Sun-Piercing Breath) • Yoga Basics

Surya Bhedana Pranayama (Sun-Piercing Breath) • Yoga Basics

Surya Bhedana Pranayama is a advanced breathing practice that invites the invigorating and warming qualities of the sun into our bodies and minds. This technique is particularly useful when one requires a boost of vitality or during moments of low energy and coolness in the body. It heats the body, stimulates the nervous system, and reduces lethargy and sluggishness. Practicing Surya Bhedana Pranayama on a regular basis can bring about a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond just physical vigor. It has the power to uplift our spirits, enhance mental focus, and ignite a profound sense of inner strength.

What is Surya Bhedana Pranayama?

Surya Bhedana Pranayama, also known as Right Nostril Breathing or Sun-Piercing Breath, derives its name from Sanskrit where Surya means “sun,” Bhedana implies “piercing” or “passing through,” and Pranayama stands for “breath control” or “expansion of life force.”

This pranayama involves a specific pattern of inhalation and exhalation through different nostrils to stimulate the warming, activating, and masculine energy of the sun. The aim is to enhance the flow of prana in the Pingala or Surya Nadi (the right energy channel), promoting an increase in body heat and energy levels.

Yogis traditionally use the Vishnu Mudra hand gesture during Surya Bhedana Pranayama. A mudra is a gesture or “seal” that is believed to channel and direct energy within the body. This mudra stimulates the lungs and heart and facilitates balance and equilibrium. Vishnu is a Hindu deity that represents the energy of balance, preservation, and sustenance. While the use of this mudra is optional, it can infuse the experience of Surya Bhedana Pranayama with a deeper sense of harmony, intention, and equanimity.

When to Use Surya Bhedana

Surya Bhedana Pranayama can be practiced any time you need an energetic lift, such as in the morning or during a midday slump. Its energizing effects make it unsuitable before bedtime. It is particularly effective when you need mental clarity, increased warmth in the body, or during cold weather.

How to practice: step-by-step instructions

  1. Calming space and proper posture
    Choose a quiet and peaceful space where you won’t be disturbed during your practice. You can optionally light some candles or dim the lights to create a serene atmosphere that enhances your practice. Find a comfortable position, either seated on the floor or in a chair. Make sure your spine is straight, your shoulders are relaxed, and your body is relaxed.
  2. Breath awareness
    Gently bring your attention to your breath and observe the natural rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation. Feel the gentle rise and fall of your chest as you inhale and exhale. Become fully present in this moment, letting go of any distractions or worries that may be weighing you down. Slowly move into a conscious diaphragmatic breathing pattern, allowing your breath to slow and deepen.
  3. Hand gesture (mudra)
    To enhance the practice of Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, bring your right hand into Vishnu Mudra. Curl the index and middle fingers of your right hand towards your palm, while extending the thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger.
  4. Alternate nostril breathing
    Practicing a few rounds of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is optional but can help prepare the body and mind for this powerful breathwork technique.
  5. Inhale through the right nostril
    Use your ring and pinky finger to gently close your left nostril, while keeping your right nostril open. Take a deep breath in through your right nostril, allowing the air to fill your lungs completely. Feel the warming, energizing and rejuvenating sensation as the breath enters your body. Focus on the sensation of the air traveling through your nostril and into your lungs, creating a sense of expansion and vitality.
  6. Hold the breath in
    After inhaling, gently press the ring and pinky fingers against the left nostril to close it off. Hold the breath for a moment, allowing the energy to settle within you. Do not force or strain the breath retention. Find a comfortable duration that works for you, starting with a few seconds and gradually increasing as you become more comfortable with the practice.
  7. Exhale through the left nostril
    Release your ring and pinky finger from your left nostril and gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Slowly exhale through your left nostril, allowing the breath to flow out smoothly and effortlessly. As you exhale, visualize any tension, stress, or negative energy leaving your body with each breath. Feel a sense of release and relaxation as you let go of anything that no longer serves you.
  8. Repeat
    Continue this cycle of inhaling through the left nostril, holding the breath, and exhaling through the right nostril for a few more rounds. Aim to maintain a slow and steady rhythm, syncing your breath with your movements. Relax into the practice, allowing a slow and steady rhythm to become established.
  9. Integrate
    After completing your practice, take a moment to reflect on the sense of energy and vitality that you have cultivated within yourself. Notice if your mind feels clearer and more focused, and if your body feels lighter and more energized.

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Benefits of Surya Bhedana Pranayama

  • Stimulates digestive fire
    By increasing the flow of prana through the Pingala Nadi, this breathing technique promotes a boost in metabolism and enhances our digestive system’s functioning. This can lead to improved digestion, absorption of nutrients, and elimination of waste.
  • Energizes the body
    Surya Bhedana Pranayama is often practiced in the morning to harness the energy of the rising sun. The increased flow of prana through the Pingala Nadi provides a natural energy boost, leaving you feeling revitalized and ready to take on the day. This can be especially beneficial for those who often experience fatigue, low energy levels, or mental lethargy.
  • Improves focus and concentration
    By directing the breath through the right nostril, this pranayama technique can activate the brain’s left hemisphere, enhancing cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, and mental clarity. This can be particularly beneficial for those who struggle with scattered thoughts or a lack of focus during work or study.
  • Balances mood
    By activating the Pingala Nadi, this pranayama practice can promote feelings of positivity, motivation, and confidence. It is particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with depression, anxiety, or mood swings.
  • Increases body temperature
    By activating the solar energy channel, this breathing technique can create a warming effect in the body, increasing body temperature. This can be particularly useful during colder months or for individuals who have lower body temperatures or tend to have cold extremities. The gentle heat generated through Surya Bhedana Pranayama can help improve circulation, relax muscles, and alleviate discomfort caused by cold weather or poor circulation.
  • Activates the third chakra
    Practicing Surya Bhedana Pranayama can help activate and balance the manipura or solar plexus chakra. Located between the navel and the sternum, this chakra is responsible for our self-confidence, self-esteem, personal power, and inner strength. By activating this energy center, you can tap into your inner fire, igniting a sense of motivation and courage to pursue your dreams.
  • Awakens Kundalini
    An intense and daily practice of this pranayama is believed to awaken Kundalini, the dormant energy which resides at the base of the spine. This powerful energy, when awakened, can stimulate spiritual growth and create a deeper connection with oneself and the universe. Regular practice of this pranayama technique can help to activate and balance the energy centers (chakras) in the body, leading to a greater sense of vitality and spiritual awakening.

Cautions and contraindications

  • New students
    This is an advanced pranayama technique that requires a certain level of experience and understanding of breath control. It should not be attempted by beginners or those who are new to yoga. It is recommended to start with simpler pranayama practices and gradually progress towards this technique under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher.
  • Pregnancy
    Pregnant women should avoid practicing Surya Bhedana Pranayama, especially during the later stages of pregnancy. This pranayama technique can increase body temperature and potentially raise the heart rate, which may not be safe for the developing fetus. It is always recommended for pregnant women to consult with their healthcare provider before incorporating any new pranayama practices into their routine.
  • Overheating symptoms
    This warming pranayama increases the internal body temperature and can lead to excessive sweating, dizziness, and a feeling of being overheated. Refrain from practicing if you experience any symptoms of overheating such as flushed skin, excessive thirst, hot flashes, fever, or feeling lightheaded.
  • High blood pressure
    The heating and energizing nature of this pranayama can potentially tax the cardiovascular system, making it unsuitable for people with unmedicated high blood pressure. Individuals with hypertension should consult with a healthcare professional or a qualified yoga instructor before attempting this practice.
  • Heart conditions
    The breath retention used in Surya Bhedana Pranayama can increase the heart rate and blood pressure. People with heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, or any other cardiovascular disease should aviod practicing this yogic breathing exercise without consulting their healthcare provider first.
  • Menstruation
    Women should refrain from practicing Surya Bhedana Pranayama during their menstrual cycle. This warming pranayama alters the natural flow of energy which may cause an increase in menstrual flow, exacerbate menstrual pain or increase discomfort.
  • Asthma or breathing disorders
    The Kumbhaka breath retention used in this practice may aggravate symptoms for individuals with asthma or other breathing disorders. The prolonged breath retention can put excessive strain on the respiratory system, potentially leading to shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing. It is crucial for individuals with these conditions to consult with a healthcare professional before attempting this yoga breathing technique.
  • Mental health conditions
    Individuals with certain mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and bipolar disorder, should exercise caution when practicing this yogic breathing exercise. This technique’s stimulating effects on the nervous system can potentially exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, panic, or mania.

Practice tips

  • Gradually increase the duration
    Start with a few rounds of this breath, gradually increasing the duration of each inhalation, breath hold, and exhalation.
  • Observe the effects
    As you continue practicing Chandra Bhedana Pranayama, take note of any changes in your mental and emotional state. Many practitioners report feeling a sense of calmness, improved focus, and reduced anxiety after regular practice.
  • Avoid forcing the breath
    Let the breath flow naturally and smoothly to Practice this pranayama with ease and without force. If you feel any discomfort or strain, gently release the technique and return to your normal breathing.
  • Seek guidance from a qualified teacher
    If you are new to pranayama or have any underlying health conditions, it is advisable to seek guidance from a qualified yoga teacher or healthcare professional before attempting Chandra Bhedana Pranayama. They can provide personalized guidance and ensure that the technique is suitable for your unique needs.
  • Add root lock or abdominal lock
    Advanced practitioners can incorporate one of the bandhas during the internal or external breath retention to increase the intensity of the pranayama. Mula Bandha, the root lock, can be engaged on the inhalation by drawing the perineum upward towards the navel. Uddiyana Bandha, the abdominal lock, can be engaged on the exhale by drawing the abdomen in and up towards the spine.

Final thoughts

Just as the sun’s rays pierce through the darkness, this pranayama technique has the power to awaken the dormant solar energies within your body and mind. Integrating Surya Bhedana into your regular practice can infuse your life with renewed energy, vitality, mental clarity and inner strength.

In moments of doubt or uncertainty, return to this powerful pranayama technique. Let it serve as a beacon of light, guiding you through life’s challenges and illuminating your path. Just as the sun’s rays can penetrate even the darkest corners, your inner light has the power to dissolve any darkness that may cloud your mind or heart.

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