At the Ayurveda Health Retreat's morning yoga class we teach our guests these four pranayamas. Prana is living force. In different cultures around the Earth, living force is called by different names. The native American Iroquois Indians called it "orenda" in the middle east it is known as "baraka" and the far east "chi and ki". It is the living force behind all movement and action.
In Ayurveda there are two paths of healing. Shamana and Shodhana.
Shamana is palliative that can be administered for the sick, elderly or injured. Shodhana is deep cleansing and detoxification, these are reserved only those with a strong constitution.
If an ill person does Shamana (yoga, pranayama, meditation, sunbath, self massage, eating healthy foods) they will become healthy. If a healthy person does Shamana that person will become healthier. Pranayama is beneficial for all.
In 1995 I was interning at a Nature Cure Hospital in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. I observed something that helped mold my perspective on health and healing. Every morning at 6:30 am, all of the Physicians, staff and patients gathered in the outdoor courtyard as the sun was slowly making it way over the mountains. I was taught an ancient system of breath control known as pranayama, these simple routines were forever imprinted in my heart and mind.
Dirga/Ujjayi Pranayama – Full Yogic Breath
Beginning with the exhale, exhale fully through your nose, get all the old air out and draw the navel gently back toward the spine. Pause a moment.
Begin the inhalation, inhale slowly beginning at the low belly, then raise to the mid belly and finally the upper chest. Hold the breath for 4 seconds and then release the breath like your emptying a cup of water from the top to the bottom, and draw the navel gently back. Begin again…do for 3-4 minutes…
Breath fully and naturally without creating tension anywhere in your body. On the inhale and exhale, begin to tone the back of the throat making the sound of the ocean slightly constricting the passage of air.
Benefits: Great for stress reduction and also strengthens the lungs and bronchial lining.
Kapalabhati Pranayama – Breath of Fire
Kapala means head and bhati means shining. It is said that doing kapalabhati will increase the radiance of your face.
Begin with three full yoga breaths, deep inhales and exhales through the nose to prepare.
Inhale 50% of your breath, and then exhale sharply and forcefully through the nose, drawing the diaphragm up and belly in as you exhale. A good way to introduce kapalabhati is to pant like a dog. This will show you the proper breath and abdominal action.
Let the inhale happen passively, and continue this cycle of forceful exhales and passive inhales at a fast pace, so that the belly is pumping continuously.
Do four rounds of twenty seven breaths each, coming inhales and exhales between each round.
Come back to back to three deep ujjayi followed by your normal breathe.
Benefits: Clears the mind for meditation by removing sensory distractions. Increases oxygen flow to the body and strengthens the nervous system. Aids digestion by improving agni (digestive fire) & strengthens abdominal muscles.
Contraindications: Heart disease, hernia, high blood pressure, asthma
Nadi Shodhanam Pranayama – Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi means channel and refers to the subtle energy pathways through which prana flows in the body. Shodhanam means cleansing. So nadi shodhanam means cleaning the channels of circulation. The left nostril (ida nadi) and right nostril (pingala nadi) if balanced can awaken sushumna (the psychic nadi channel carrying kundalini energy).
Place your thumb and middle finger over your third eye, on your forehead.
Close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand and exhale all of the old air out through the left nostril.
Inhale through the left nostril (4 seconds)
Close both nostrils and hold the breath (4 seconds)
Then slowly exhale through the right nostril (8 seconds) closing the left nostril with your ring and little finger.
Close your left nostril, inhale through the right nostril (4 seconds)
Close both nostrils and hold the breath (4 seconds)
Exhale through the left nostril (8 seconds).
You have just completed ONE round! You may do 10-20 rounds in one sitting. ☺
Benefits: Balances the left & right hemispheres of the brain and creates a sense of overall well being. Purifies the nadis (subtle channels) in the body.
Contraindications: Pregnancy, high blood pressure.
Brahmari Pranayama – The Bumble Bee
Brahmari pranayama vibrates the entire brain. Vibration of the cerebral cortex sends impulses to the hypothalamus which has the capacity to control the pituitary gland (the master gland). This helps to regulate the endocrine system and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, supporting the whole neuroendocrine system.
Take a full breath through your nose.
Place your thumbs over your ears & begin to hum like a bee on the exhale
Exhale fully, humming until all of the air is removed
Repeat 5-10 times
Benefits: Vibrates cerebral cortex and increases circulation to the thyroid, pineal and pituitary glands. Removes mental agitation, increases mental concentration, alleviates headaches.