Intuition and intellect, feminine and masculine, moon and sun, night and day. Throughout the universe, pairs of opposing qualities combine in a dynamic dance. Ayurveda recognizes the value of this interplay of opposites in the environment and within our being. In fact, the idea that the opposite brings balance is a central principle in Ayurvedic healing. We can apply this concept to our diet, to our activities and perhaps most important of all, to how we manage our energy.
When I say energy, what I’m talking about is prana. Prana is generally described as the life-force, but it has many different manifestations. Prana is the most subtle element in the universe, and from it all other elements are born - ethers, air, fire, water, and earth. These elements make up our bodies and our universe, therefore we can say that prana is the underlying cause of everything we experience. It creates and sustains life, and when it withdraws the result is decay and death.
Ayurveda and Yoga are essentially forms of pranic medicine. The aim of these practices is to encourage the flow of prana in our being in order for deep, lasting healing to occur. We allow for an optimal flow of prana by balancing the opposing aspects of our being, particularly our divine feminine and masculine energies.
These energies are present within each of us, no matter our gender. Our feminine energy illuminates our inner world, and includes qualities like intuition, compassion, and kindness. This aspect of ourselves is related to kapha dosha - the cooling water and earth elements - and to the right brain and the left side of the body. Our masculine energy is oriented towards the outer world. This is the fire of our intellect at work, our desire to take action. Our masculine side is linked to pitta dosha, the right side of the body and the left brain.
When we value and utilize all of these aspects of our being, we are living from a place of balance and moderation, and we are healthier and more effective in what we do.
However, as we discussed back in October, when we rely heavily on some parts of ourselves and ignore others, we actually place ourselves in resistance to the natural flow of prana, which causes disease. When we are in a state of resistance, we inhibit our natural vitality, which means that tamas - the energy of inertia and darkness - begins to set in. Parts of our body actually turn off and we start to withdraw from life. The consequences for our well-being are significant - like dosha imbalance, weakened agni, and a disconnect between the mind and the body. Such symptoms are the root of poor decision-making, which in turn leads to more imbalance.
Think about how you go about your day. Are you easily able to switch between your intellect and intuition when needed? Or use them both in concert? Do you rely heavily one type of energy? At work, perhaps you call on your rational mind and assertive nature in order to make decisions and appear sure of yourself. But without being aware of it, you may embody these energies all day long, through your interactions with friends and family. You may find yourself being unnecessarily harsh or confrontational with others, which damages your relationships and drains your vitality.
Sometimes we emphasize one type of energy over the other because of beliefs we hold about how a man or woman is supposed to act. These beliefs are rooted in samskaras, or pictures, which are formed through our experiences, including social conditioning and family dynamics. Men might think that they only have masculine energy, and that they need to be strong, protective, or even forceful all of the time. Women may try to bury their feminine energy in the workplace in an effort to be taken seriously.
Recently a Hale Pule guest shared with us that he was reflecting on what it means to be a man in modern society. He observed that most of his life he had suppressed his feelings because he thought that men weren’t supposed to be emotional, at least not outwardly. This is because he didn’t know any differently - his father had never communicated what was going on inside. Instead he relied on alcohol to soothe himself, and was prone to angry outbursts.
But when our guest began his journey with Ayurveda, he learned that each person carries both feminine and masculine energy, and that both are valuable. He learned that it’s ok to express himself, and to nurture others.
Remember that pictures of ‘manliness’ or what’s ‘ladylike’ are simply constructions, which change over time. My grandmother’s life looked very different from my own. She was highly intellectual and she wore white gloves and carried an elegant purse at all times. By contrast, I run a business, live on a farm and I wear what pleases me. But in some ways we are similar because for much of our lives we both attempted to prove ourselves among men with overuse of the masculine energy.
Change begins within. When we bring awareness to the notions that influence our behavior and hold us back, can allow our prana to flow naturally.
And the best way to increase our awareness is to get in touch with our spirit, that eternal aspect of our being that knows that all is well.
Because we live in a society that places high value on masculine energy, like assertiveness and action, for many of us connecting with our spirit means cultivating our divine feminine through inward practices conducted in a sattvic manner, like pranayama and meditation. These practices not only increase our peace of mind but expand our view of ourselves and all of life.
A powerful method for finding a balance between our divine masculine and divine feminine aspects is a pranayama technique called nadi shodhana. In this practice we purify and balance the ida and pingala nadis, the energetic channels that run from the base of the spine to the tip of each nostril. Feminine ida connects to the left nostril, and manages the subtle energy of the left body. The pingala nadi comprises the right side of our energetic body and terminates in the right nostril.
The nadi shodhana technique involves exhaling and inhaling through one nostril, and then the same out the other, and continuing back and forth in this manner at a slow, even pace. When practiced regularly in a sattvic manner, nadi shodhana brings the energetic flow of ida and pingala into harmony, and moves prana up and down the spine evenly. This creates balance in the mind and in the body and establishes optimal metabolism.
Like any pranayama, nadi shodhana helps us to develop an awareness of our breath and of our prana. With this awareness we can come to know ourselves more. We can see which situations result in a constriction of breath, or notice when parts of our body feel uncomfortable or stuck because prana is not flowing properly. We can also understand how often we’re relying on our masculine or our feminine energy as we observe our nostrils. At some points in the day, the breath will flow more easily through the left nostril, and others, through the right nostril. A nostril that consistently has greater airflow indicates a possible energetic imbalance.
For a step-by-step guide to nadi shodhana, check out this post. Give it a go! Consider the practice an opportunity to get to know yourself a little more. Then observe your breath throughout the day. Observe the qualities that you’re embodying and seek balance and moderation in all things. Then life truly begins to open up.
Contact us if you have any questions about pranayama, or anything else. We love to hear from you.