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Pranayama – breathing to clear physical and emotional obstacles

Breathing is the process of moving air into and out of the lungs to facilitate gas exchange with the internal environment, mostly by bringing in oxygen and flushing out carbon dioxide. Pranayama in yoga is the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises, which clear the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and so the flow of prana – life energy. Through a regular and sustained practice of pranayama you can supercharge your whole body!

  • Mindful breathing
    • Serves as foundation for practice because breath is always with you
    • Can be used as an anchor to the present moment
    • Breath naturally, allowing breath to be as it is
    • Mindful of movement  or warmth of breath in the nose, chest, abdomen
    • Deep tummy breathing activates relaxation response

 

Here are some valuable pranayama breathing exercises for you to try at home:

1. Nadi Shodhana Breathing Exercise

It is said in the classical yogic text that nadi shodhana pranayama prepares one to practice other advanced pranayamas. The word nadi shodhana means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to purify’ the ‘energy channel’. The whole aim of this pranayama is to purify the Nadis or the energy channels so that more amount of energy flow can occur and also helps in bringing harmony to the entire system.

Simple Nadi Shodhana Technique

Take a comfortable posture, Inhale and exhale through the left nostril 5 times by keeping the right nostril closed with your thumb. The rate of breath must be normal, but you must be aware of the breath flowing through your nostril. Once you finish the count of 5, release the pressure on the right nostril and then keep the left nostril closed with the ring finger and repeat the same technique, once the 5 counts are over through the right nostril, release the hold on both the nostrils and breathe in through both the nostrils 5 times. This is one round. Practice 5 rounds.

Alternate nostril breathing is an alternative: Inhale right (whilst covering left), exhale left (cover right), inhale left (cover right), exhale right (cover left)

2. Rhythmic Breathing Exercise

A very simple breathing exercise that can be used in any condition, here you try to maintain the exact count of inhaled and exhaled breath. Usually, a person tends to breathe in for a longer duration and breathe out for a shorter duration. If the time of inhalation and exhalation are the same, your breath will harmonise the whole system.

Rhythmic Breathing Technique

Sit in a comfortable posture, relax your body until you no longer have to make any further movements. Close your eyes and become aware of the bodily posture for a while until naturally your awareness shifts to the breath.

Observe the breath going in and out without any conscious effort. Now only you are set to the natural rhythm of the breath, alter your breath to have even counts of inhalation and exhalation. Let the breath flow without any jerks. Continue practicing for 5 minutes. Slowly return to normal breathing and end the practice.

 

3. Ujjayi Breathing Exercise (Psychic Breath)

Ujjayi Pranayama is perhaps the best-known pranayama technique that calms down the entire nervous system and has a calming effect at the psychic level. In this technique, the glottis is contracted so that there is a slight friction when breath flows through it producing a light snoring sound.

Simple Ujjayi Breathing Technique

Sit in a comfortable posture, relax your body until you no longer have to make any further movements. Close your eyes and become aware of the bodily posture for a while until naturally your awareness shifts to the breath.

Become aware of the throat and imagine the breath being inhaled and exhaled through the throat. Gently contract the glottis, doing so will produce a light snoring sound (audible only to the practitioner) as you breathe in and out. When you practice this technique correctly there will be a spontaneous contraction of the abdomen. Too much effort should not be put in contracting the throat, it should be gentle through out the practice. Practice for about 5 minutes.

4. Bhramari Breathing Exercise (Humming Bee Breath)

Bhramari means bee, in this breathing exercise the practitioner imitates the humming sound of that of a bee. This humming sound has a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system.

Basic Bhramari Breathing Technique

Sit in a comfortable posture, relax your body until you no longer have to make any further movements. Close your eyes and become aware of the bodily posture for a while until naturally your awareness shifts to the breath.

Relax the jaws with your mouth closed so that the sound vibrations are more distinctly heard. Raise the arms sideways and bend the elbows towards the ears. Use the index fingers to close the flaps of the ears.

Bring your awareness towards the centre of the eye brow. Inhale through the nose normally and as you exhale create and become aware of the humming sound reverberate in your entire front skull while you maintain awareness at the centre of the eyebrows. The humming sound should be constant throughout the exhalation. This is one round, after which you may start again. Practice 11 rounds in one sitting.

5. Bhastrika Breathing Exercise (Bellow Breath)

Bhastrika Pranayama requires you to hold on to a steady posture throughout the practice. The posture should be such that it allows easy abdominal movement. This method enables rapid exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream hence producing heat and also removes wastes and toxins at the cellular level. Some of the benefits of the practice are that it improves the digestive system, blood circulation, nervous system, lowers stress and much more.

Simple Bhastrika Breathing Technique

Sit in a comfortable posture, keep the head and spine straight. Close the eyes, relax your whole body. Take deep breaths in out forcefully through the nose. Then again inhale and exhale with the same force. Take note that while you inhale, the diaphragm descends and the abdomen moves outward. During exhalation, the diaphragm moves upward and abdomen inward. Practice this for 10 breaths which constitute one round.

6. Kapalbhati Breathing Exercises (frontal brain cleansing breath or lion breath)

Kapalbhati Pranayama is similar to Bhastrika but there are some key differences. Bhastrika is same throughout the whole practice, whereas Kapalbhati breathing exercise becomes slower and longer. Bhastrika uses equal force on both inhalation and exhalation, while Kapalbhati uses forced exhalation only.

Kapalbhati Breathing Technique

Sit in a comfortable posture, keep the head and spine straight. Close the eyes, relax your whole body. Exhale with forceful contraction of abdominal muscles, and then the following inhalation takes place automatically while you allow the abdominal muscles to relax. In this method, inhalation is always spontaneous. Perform 10 such breaths which constitute one round and then breathe normally before returning to the technique. You may practice 5 rounds in the beginning.

 

 

Reference
Prana and Pranayama by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati