Friday, October 21, 2011


As the days get shorter and cooler I find myself being drawn to practice more pranayama (breathing practices). Here is a summary of various breath practices:

Abdominal or diaphragmatic Breathing: In this pranayama technique you are emphasizing the movement of the diaphragm rather then the rib cage. On an inhale the diaphragm moves downward pushing the abdominal contents downward and on an exhale the diaphragm moves upward and the abdominal contents move inward. This breath massages the liver, stomach, intestines and other organs, it tones the heart and improves oxygenation of the blood and circulation.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama: with your right hand fold the two peace finger (index and bird) into the palm of you hand. Take your ring and pinkie finger to the outside of the left nostril and your thumb to the outside of the right nostril. You will be shutting off the air to one nostril, I find it helpful to not only close the air off but to pull the check skin away from the opposite nose.
  • Technique 1: Close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril 5 times. After 5 breaths release your right nostril and close off the left. Inhale and exhale through the right nostril 5 times. Lower the hand and breathe 5 times through each nostril. This is round one. Practice 5 rounds or for 3-5 mins. In Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha they recommend doing this technique for 15 days until moving onto technique two.
  • Technique 2: Alternate nostril breathing: close off your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril, release your right nostril and close off your left and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril close of the right and exhale through the left. This is round one. Work for 10 rounds. Keep the length of inhales and exhales equal. As you get more familiar and practiced with this breathing technique increase the time until you've reached 12:12.
  • Technique 3: Antar Kumbhaka (inner retention): Close the right nostril and inhale through the left, then close both nostril and retrain the breath, inhale slightly through the left (this brings the respiratory muscles back into action). After the exhale immediately inhale through the left nostril closing off the right, retain the breath, inhale slightly through the right nostril and then exhale completely through the right. This is one round. Practice 10 rounds. During this breath technique use a constant count, for example 5. 
    • A fun note on Kumbhaka: When I was at Wanderlust Squaw Valley I was listening to Chris Tompkins and Hareesh give a wonderful talk. At one post Hareesh said that sometimes when him and Chris are at a concert when the band is really rocking out Chris would turn to Hareesh and say "Kumbhaka, kumbhaka now!". Chris responded by smiling sweetly and saying this is true. Since then when I have been at a concert I have practiced some Kumbhaka.
  • Nadi means 'channel' or 'flow' and shodhana mean 'purification'. Nadi Shodhana norishes the whole body by supplying extra oxygen while expelling carbon dioxide and other toxins from the blood. This breath stimulates the brain and lowers stress levels. This is one of the main pranayama techniques I use in my practice.
Sheetali Pranayama: cooling breath: Stick out your tongue and roll the outer edges of the tongue up so it forms a tube. Inhale and draw the breath through the tongue. At the end of the inhale bring your tongue in and close your mouth. Exhale through your nose. Set your awareness on the cool sensation on the tongue and the pallet of the mouth. This is one round. Practice 9-15 rounds.This practice cools the body and mind. It effects the brain centers associated with biological drives and temperature regulation. This practice causes muscular and mental relaxation.

Seetkari Pranayama: hissing breath: Hold the teeth lightly together. Separate the lips and place the tongue on the top palate (khechari mudra). Breathe in through the teeth, after inhale close your mouth and exhale through the nose. Place your awareness on the hissing sound of the breath. This breath realizes the mind and the muscles. It also  keeps the teeth and gums healthy. "Through perfection of this practice, the adept becomes like the god Kamadeva. Kama means 'desire' and deva means 'master', therefore, through this practice desire is mastered and a state of balanced purification is achieved" Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha.

 Bhramari Pranayama: humming bees breath: With you teeth slightly open, lips closed and your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Bend your elbows and press the flaps of your ears closed with the index finger. Bring your awareness to the ajna (third eye) chackra. Inhale through the nose and as you exhale create a steady humming sound. This is round one. 5-10 rounds is a good start. Once you become more familiar with this pranayama technique you can increase to 15 mins. When there is lots of tension and anxiety you can practice up to 30 mins for healing. I have never practice for this long but I can imagine it would be heavenly. Bhramari relieves stress and tension. It relieves anger, anxiety, insomnia, and reducing blood pressure. The vibration of this technique creates a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system.

Ujjayi Pranayama:This is the main pranayama technique we use during yoga asana unless instructed by an instructor. To perform this breath tighten the muscles of the throat and breath in out and through the nose. It should create a gentle whispering sound, or the sound of wind blowing through the trees. Ujjayi is a calming breath that also has a heating effect in the body. In yoga this breath is used to soothe the nervous system and calm the mind. Ujjya pranayama refers o the victorious upraising of prana.

Bhastrika Pranayama: bellows breath: This breathe is a force full exhale followed by a force full inhale. The stomach should move rapidly in and out with the breath. Breath in and out like this 10 times, after the tenth breath take a  deep breath. This is round one, practice up to 10 rounds. This practice burns up toxins and removes disease from he body.

Kapalbhati Pranayama: This breath is similar to bhastrika however instead of having a force full breath on each end of the breath kapalbhakti just has a forceful exhale and the inhale us passively allowing the abdominal muscles to expand. The inhalation should be spontaneous and passive following the force full exhale. Start at 10 breaths per round and take a breath in between rounds. As the abdominal muscles become stronger you can increase how many rounds of breath. The benefits for this breath helps remove sensory distractions from the mind. It helps energize the mind for rest and helps remove sleepiness. It also balances and strengthens the nervous systems and tones the digestive organs.

Happy breathing to you all!
Smiles Kim
Source: Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

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