By Faye Martins
Bhastrika Pranayama literally means “bellows breath”: exhaling quickly and forcefully, making a sound like air expelling from a bellows. Performing Bhastrika Pranayama regularly can provide health benefits, but how is it done and are there any contraindications?
“Bellows breathing” is performed in a relaxed sitting position, like Padmasana or Crossed Leg position. Inhale fully, inflating the chest, rather than the abdomen. When the lungs are completely fully, exhale forcefully. The air should make a hissing sound as it escapes. The breathing should be repeated five to ten times, as forcefully and quickly as possible; stop if you start to feel dizzy or faint. When you have finished one “round” of breathing, take a deep inhalation and hold the breath in as long as possible. Exhale when needed and then take several normal breaths; begin another set when you feel comfortable. Five minutes a day is the recommended time period for Bhastrika Pranayama.
When performed correctly, this breathing exercise helps provide the body with maximum oxygen, which makes the skin glow. Other benefits include reducing toxins in the body, increasing warmth in the body and strengthening the immune system, and reducing respiratory tract ailments. Blood purification and weight loss are also benefits of “bellows breathing.” It is said that this is the secret to ageless skin and beauty!
Although there are many advantages to Bhastrika Pranayama, it is not for everyone. Practitioners with high blood pressure or cardiac problems should avoid this exercise. If the temperature is high, such as during the summer or in an overheated room, this kind of breathing should be limited to two minutes, rather than five. Continuing to breath deeply and forcefully when you feel faint may lead to hyperventilation, so it is important to stop immediately if dizziness occurs.
Hyperventilation decreases the carbon dioxide level in the blood and reduces blood flow to the brain, resulting in confusion and agitation. Calcium levels in the blood are also affected, leading to numbness and muscle twitching. In very rare cases, the blood vessel supplying the heart can spasm; if heart disease is already present, this could trigger a heart attack, which is why Bhastrika Pranayama must be avoided in those with the condition.
As with other asanas and practices in Yoga, it is important to remember that these are powerful tools, to be regarded respectfully. Take seriously any negative signs from your body or your students.
© Copyright 2011 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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