Pranayama 101

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Breathe Deep, Go Deep

The practice of pranayama is the means to creating a deeper relationship between the mind and the subtle body. Through specific breathing techniques, we increase the amount of prana in the body, tone the lungs, cleanse the subtle energetic channels, and draw the mind into a more steady and relaxed state, all of which prepares the body for meditation.

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Technique Specifics

*For pranayama we want to ensure the practitioner has a comfortable seat and an erect spine with a balance between the pelvic floor and the crown of the head.

*Use meditation cushions, bolsters, blocks and chairs to ensure this balance will occur.

*With the breathing techniques, we always want to warm up the breath and nervous system with an easy breathing or ujjayi breathing technique first. Then we move into a deeper pranayama such as Nadi Shodhana to cleanse and further soothe the nervous system and bring balance into Ida and Pingala.

*Following this, the body is now ready for a stronger overall breathing technique such as Brahmari, which guides the practitioner towards the central channel of sushumna.

*Lastly, to smooth out the invigorated energies of your pranayama and to connect deeply to the subtle Sushumna channel, we take on Sama vritti or equal breathing pranayama.

*Now the practitioner has reached the perfect balanced state between body and breath allowing him or her to sit in meditation.

Please read the following from B.K.S. Iyengar Light on Pranayama:

  • Chapter 4 Pranayama and the Respiratory System (discussion on the mechanics of the breath)
  • Chapter 22 Digital Pranayama and the Art of Placing the Fingers on the Nose (hand placement)
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PRANAYAMA TECHNIQUES

All of the following breathing must be done without strain. Go slow and easy.


1. FULL YOGIC BREATH: This technique prepares the body for the subsequent breathing techniques by deepening the awareness of the breath. After savasana, move the body into a comfortable seated position with a straight spine. Breathe to the comfortable peak of the inhale and bottom of the exhale. Repeat 6 times.

2. NADI SHODHANA (alternate nostril breathing): A simple form of alternate nostril breathing that calms the mind, soothes anxiety and stress, and promotes mental clarity.

Hold your right hand up, place your thumb next to your right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers by your left. Let the index and middle fingers just relax and either rest onto the forehead in between the eyes or curl into the palm.

Close the right nostril gently with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril, keeping the breath slow and steady. Once you reach the bottom of the exhale, close the left nostril by pressing gently against it with your ring and pinky fingers, and now inhale fully through the right nostril. At the peak of the inhale, close the right nostril gently with the thumb and exhale fully through the left. Once the exhale is complete, inhale through the left nostril, block and exhale fully through the right. That is one complete round of Nadi Shodhana.

3. BHRAMARI (bumblebee breathing): This breathing technique helps soothe the nervous system and eases tension, rendering a strong clear voice.

Place the hands with both palms pressing lightly onto the face. Pinky fingers together just underneath the bottom lip, ring fingers together just above the top lip, middle fingers to the bridge of the nose, index fingers to the eyelids, and thumbs pressing onto the tragus to close off the ears so that you do not hear any sounds. Inhale deeply and as you exhale make a strong humming noise in your throat keeping your mouth closed, like ‘mmmmmmmmmmmmmm’.

4. SAMA VRITI (balanced breathing or same action breath): We use this technique to balance every moment of the inhale and the exhale.

With full awareness and attention on your breath, balance out the inhales and the exhales in every way possible so that they match in length, depth, and tone.

5. SHEETALI (cooling breath): Designed to lower body temperature; perfect when taking practice in hot temperatures. This technique not only cools and calms the body, but also influences the mind in the same way.

Part the lips and roll and extend slightly the tongue. If this is not possible, touch the front teeth together keeping the lips apart. Inhale through the rolled tongue or teeth so that you can feel the breath hit the back of the throat. At the top of the inhalation, close the lips, tuck the chin to towards the chest, and retain the breath for a count of 3. On the last count, raise the head and take a complete ujjayi exhale through the nose. Repeat 6 times.

6. BHASTRIKA (bellows breath): This pranayama technique is an exercise for the lungs. Air is forcibly drawn in and out through the nose in equal proportions, like the pumping action of the bellows.

Take one full inhale to prepare, and then expel the air with a quick strong blast. Allow the following inhales and exhales to be equally strong and forceful. Do 12 breaths for a total of 3 rounds.

7. KAPALBHATI (shiny skull technique): This breath purifies the frontal region of the brain. Similar to bhastrika, but we move the action from the lungs down into the abdomen, breathing rapidly through the nostrils. Place emphasis on the exhalation - the inhalation that follows will be the result of forcing air out.

Take one complete inhale. At the very top of the inhalation, draw the abdomen in toward the spine and then exhale forcefully, pushing the belly to relax and push out as you do so. Immediately the body will naturally inhale and the belly will come back; continue to exhale forcefully. Do 12 breaths for a total of 3 rounds.

8. VILOMA (against the grain): This breathing technique relaxes the body, soothes the mind, and allows us to find the constant rhythm within our breathing.

Exhale fully all the air out of the lungs. Then, inhale filling up only the lower part of the lungs, pause (3 sec); inhale the middle, pause (3 sec); inhale all the way to the comfortable peak, pause (3 sec); then exhale completely. Do six rounds. Take three ujjayi rest breaths. Then reverse: inhale fully all the way to the top, and exhale only the top range of the lungs, pause (3 sec); exhale middle range, pause (3 sec); exhale all the breath out to the bottom, pause (3 sec). Do six rounds.