Surya bheda pranayama is concerned with stimulating and awakening energy within the physical and pranic bodies. The practice can be described as a psychic supercharger. The word surya means ‘sun’ and bheda means ‘to pierce’, ‘to awaken’. The sun represents pingala nadi (the pranic pathway associated with energy in the human framework) and the flow of the breath through the right nostril.
There are various alternative methods; we will describe three. You can choose one of these practices according to your preference.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states: “The aspirant should sit in a comfortable pose and breathe in through the right nostril until he feels pressure build up to the hairs and fingertips. Then he should exhale through the left nostril.” (2:48, 49)
This is one method. We do not suggest that you hold your breath until you feel ‘pressure build up to the hairs and fingertips’; hold it only for as long as you feel comfortable. Long retentions should only be done under very strict conditions of practice, perfect health and cleanliness of the body-mind, and under the guidance of a teacher. The scripture gives clear instructions about this in previous verses. The text continues: “Surya bheda pranayama should be practised again and again. It will purify the frontal part of the brain, remove all kinds of wind problems and eradicate bacteria within the body.” (2:50)
Surya bheda pranayama is also described in the Gherand Samhita, although the technique is slightly different: “I am going to discuss surya bheda pranayama with kumbhaka (breath retention). Please listen carefully. Inhale air through the surya (right) nostril as deeply as possible. Retain the breath inside. Dojalandhara bandha. Continue to do kumbhaka for as long as you can until sweat starts to come from the tips of the hair and fingers.” (5:57, 58)
Again we do not advise you to hold your breath for prolonged periods of time without the personal guidance of a teacher.
The description continues in later verses: “During surya bheda you should feel as if the inhaled breath is ascending from the navel region. You should slowly breathe out through the left nostril. Again inhale through the right nostril, hold the breath, then breathe out through the left nostril. Repeat the process over and over again.” (5:65, 66)
This practice is slightly different to that given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in that it includes jalandhara bandha and awareness of the upward flow of breath from the navel. The practice that we generally teach in the ashram is also slightly different as you will see when we describe the techniques. All these techniques, however, bring about essentially the same benefits.