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Pranayama: The power of breathing

Pranayama 1Pranayama, as traditionally conceived, involves much more than merely breathing for relaxation. Pranayama is a term with a wide range of meanings. Patanjali defines Pranayama as “the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention.” It is to be practiced only after perfection in asana (yogic postures) is attained. Pranayama also denotes cosmic power, or the power of the entire universe which manifests itself as conscious living being in us through the phenomenon of breathing.

The word Pranayama consists of two parts: prana and ayama. Ayama means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control and describes the action of Pranayama. Prana is energy, when the self-energizing force embraces the body. When this self-energizing force embraces the body with extension, expansion and control, it is Pranayama.

 

Keep in mind that the biggest problem encountered by beginning yoga students is the tendency to push beyond their limits. These exercises should be done so that it is enjoyable. Know your limits. Do not push it so that it becomes hard on you. If you proceed slowly and carefully, you can attain the ultimate in yoga. But it may take some time. Remember, ‘slow and steady wins the race’.

Note the following general principles when practicing Pranayama:

  1. Breathing exercises should never be pushed to the point of weariness or exhaustion.
  2. Exercises should not be repeated too often.
  3. They should not be merely mechanical.
  4. There should be no hurry or haste.
  5. Attention should be concentrated on the exercise while it is being performed.
  6. There should always be variety and change in the exercises.
  7. Exercise should always be gentle and nonviolent.
  8. Breathing should not be jerky or irregular, but smooth, steady and continuous.
  9. The spine should always be straight and not hunched to allow full expansion of the chest
Pranayama and other yoga breathing practices emphasize conscious breathing. As long as we pay close attention to the reaction of the body during these breathing practices, we have nothing to fear.

 

Kapalabhati (cleaning breath)Pranayama 2
Kapalabhati is a breathing technique used specifically for cleansing. If we have a lot of mucus in the air passages or feel tension and blockages in the chest it is often helpful to breathe quickly. In this practice, we deliberately breathe faster and at the same time use only Abdominal Breathing, that is, diaphragmatic, not chest breathing. In Kapalabhati, the breath is short, rapid, and strong. We use the lungs as a pump, creating so much pressure as they expel the air that all the waste is removed from the air passages, from the lungs up through the nostrils. Kapala means “skull” and bhati means “that which brings lightness”. Kapalabhati is a good thing to do when we feel heavy or foggy in the head. If we have problems with the sinuses or feel numb around the eyes, Kapalabhati can help to clear this area as well.

The Kapalabhati and Bhastrika Breathing Techniques share the same general principle, namely that we clear the nasal passages with the force of the breath. You must be very careful with these techniques because there is a danger of creating tension in the breath. We may also become dizzy when we breathe rapidly; for this reason we always conclude the practice of Kapalabhati with some slow breaths. It is important not to breathe rapidly too many times, but after a few rapid breaths take several slow ones in which we emphasize the long Exhalation.

One Round of Kapalabhati (Cleaning Breath)
Take two normal breaths. Inhale. Now exhale, pulling in your abdomen. Repeat twenty times, keeping a steady rhythm and emphasizing the exhalation each time. Then inhale, exhale completely, inhale fully and hold your breath for as long as you comfortably can. Slowly exhale.

Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
Anuloma Viloma is also called the Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique. The left nostril is the path of the Nadi called Ida and the right nostril is the path of the Nadi called Pingala. If you are really healthy, you will breathe predominantly through the Ida nostril about one hour and fifty minutes in 24 hours cycle and then through the Pingala nostril for the remaining time. But in many people, this natural rhythm is disturbed. Anuloma Viloma restores, equalizes and balances the flow of Prana in the body.

One round of Anuloma Viloma is made up of six steps, as shown below. Start by practicing three rounds and build up slowly to twenty rounds, whilst also extending the count.

The Vishnu Mudra
In Anuloma Viloma, you adopt the Vishnu Mudra with your right hand to close your nostrils. Tuck your index and middle finger into your nose. Place the thumb by your right nostril and your ring and little fingers by your left.

One Round of Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Pranayama 3Inhale deeply through the left nostril, closing the right with the thumb

Pranayama 4Hold the breath, closing both nostrils for a few seconds

Pranayama 5Exhale through the right nostril, closing the left with the ring and little fingers.Time taken to exhale should be longer than the inhalation

Pranayama 6Inhale deeply through the right nostril, closing the right with the ring and little fingers

Pranayama 7Hold the breath, closing both nostrils for a few seconds

Pranayama 8Exhale through the left nostril, closing the left with the thumb.Time taken to exhale should be longer than the inhalation

 

Benefits of Anuloma Viloma
The exercise of the Anuloma Viloma produces optimum function to both sides of the brain: that is optimum creativity and optimum logical verbal activity. This will make both sides of the brain, the left side which is responsible for logical thinking and the right side which is responsible for creative thinking to function properly. This will lead to a balance between a person’s creative and logical thinking. The Yogis consider this to be the best technique to calm the mind and the Nervous System.

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