By Dr. Rita Khanna
Breathing practices are one of the most effective means of increasing lung capacity, energy and stamina, and control over involuntary muscles, enhancing concentration, and balancing emotion. When practiced systematically for some time, the awareness develops – that energy is not purely physical in nature, and that efficient management of the Pranic energy can be developed through control of the breath.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (The Psychic Network Purification)
Sit in any of the meditative poses, such as Padmasana, Siddhasana, Sukhasana, or Vajrasana. It should be a pose which can be comfortably maintained for at least 15 minutes. Place the hands on the knees, straighten the spine, hold the head upright, so that it faces directly forward, and relax the whole body. Close the eyes and mentally prepare the mind and body for the forthcoming practice. For a few minutes, be aware only of the body and the breath. Now, start the practice.
Stage 1: While keeping the left hand on the knee, raise the right hand. The right fingers should control the flow of air through the nostrils in the following way:
The index and middle fingers should remain on the eyebrow centre (Bhrumadhya), or at the base of the thumb, throughout the practice. The thumb should be near the right nostril, so that it can control the flow of air, by pressing the side of the nostril. The third finger should be placed beside the left nostril, so that it can control the flow of air in the left nostril.
- Close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale through the left nostril and then exhale through the same nostril. The rate of inhalation and exhalation should be normal. Breathe in and out 5 times. Release the pressure of the thumb on the side of the right nostril. Press the side of the left nostril, with the ring finger, to prevent the flow of air.
- Inhale and exhale through the right nostril. Again, the rate of respiration should be normal. Repeat 5 times. Respiration through each nostril, 5 times, in turn, is one round. Practice 25 rounds. The practitioner should not breathe heavily, and there should be no sound as the air passes through the nostrils.
- After 15 days, leave stage 1 and practice stage 2.
Stage 2: Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Close the right nostril with the thumb. Inhale through the left nostril. At the end of the inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the pressure of the thumb on the right nostril, and breathe out through the right nostril. Then, inhale through the right nostril. At the end of the inhalation, close the right nostril, open the left nostril, and exhale through the left nostril. This is one round.
- In this stage, the practitioner should start counting the length of each inhalation and exhalation. The counting should be done mentally, by repeating 1-Om, 2-Om, 3-Om, and so on. The time for inhalation and exhalation should be equal. For example, in 5 and out 5, or whatever number is comfortable. Do not strain under any circumstances.
- After a few days, try to increase the period of inhalation and exhalation, maintaining the same 1 to 1 ratio. In other words, try to increase the time of inhalation to 6, and the time of exhalation to 6. When this is easily achieved, try to obtain a count of 7 for inhalation and 7 for exhalation. Do not force the breath in any way. Be careful not to speed up the counting during exhalation to compensate for shortage of breath. At the slightest sign of discomfort, reduce the time of each inhalation and exhalation, or discontinue the practice for a day.
- After 15 days or more, go on to stage 3.
Stage 3: Antaranga Kumbhaka (Inner Retention) or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- Close the right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril. At the end of the inhalation, close both nostrils – retain the breath for a count of 5. Exhale through the right nostril. Then, inhale through the right nostril, with the left nostril remaining closed. Again, retain the breath for a count of 5, closing both nostrils. Exhale through the left nostril, by opening the left nostril, and keeping the right nostril closed. This is one round. Practice 25 rounds.
- After some days of practice, increase inhalation, retention, and exhalation gradually to 7:7:7, i.e. if you breathe in for a count of 7, try to hold the breath inside for a count of 7, and breathe out for a count of 7.
- Practice Nadi Shodhana after Asana and before Meditation. Do not retain the breath for longer than is comfortable. Proceed to the next stage only when perfection is achieved in the preceding stage. Learn deliberately under expert guidance.
Brahmari Pranayama (The Pranic Humming Control)
- Sit in a comfortable Meditative Asana. The spinal cord should be erect and the head straight. Close the eyes, and relax the whole body for a short time. Keep the mouth closed throughout the practice.
- Inhale deeply through both nostrils. Retain the breath inside, and plug both ears with the index fingers. Keeping the mouth closed, separate the teeth and slowly exhale, producing a long continuous humming sound like a bee. The exhalation should be slow and steady.
- Feel the sound vibrations in the brain, and be conscious of only the sound. This is one round. Start with 5 rounds and slowly increase the number.
- Do not practice in the supine position. Do not strain the lungs in any way.
Ujjayi Pranayama (The Psychic Breath)
- Sit in any comfortable position. Contract the glottis in the throat, and perform Khechari Mudra, i.e. fold the tongue back so that the underside is pressed against the back of the upper palate.
- Breathe deeply and softly, like the gentle snoring of a sleeping baby. Feel that you are breathing through the throat, only.
- Practice 25 complete breaths (inhalation and exhalation) or more.
Kapalbhati Pranayama (Frontal Brain Bellowing)
- Sit in any comfortable Meditative Pose. Close the eyes and relax.
- Close the right nostril and perform 20 rapid respirations through the left nostril. Then, close the left nostril and perform 20 rapid respirations through the right nostril.
- Then, with both the nostrils open, perform 20 rapid respirations.
- The inhalation should be spontaneous, with the emphasis on exhalation.
- Then, relax with normal breathing.
- This is one round. Repeat up to 5 rounds.
This is the systematic method for inducing complete physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. It works at three levels simultaneously – the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Due to the depth of relaxation, the level of awareness and focus increases. The level of receptivity is also greater, so it is helpful for learning skills and techniques. For example, there are a number of stages in the practice, one of which is the process of visualization. While the body lies in a state of physical sleep, the mind is awake and relaxed.
Yoga- nidra is actually a very simple technique, and it can be learned from a tape recording. However, it is preferable for the beginner to practice Yoga-nidra under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Regular lessons, accompanied by private practice, with a tape recording of the same practice used in the class, enables one to understand the technique and to recall all the instructions effortlessly.
Here is a very short class transcription:
Lie down on your back in Shavasana. The body straight from head to toe, legs slightly apart, arms a little away from the body, palms turned upwards…
Now, bring about a feeling of inner relaxation in the whole body…..complete stillness and complete awareness of the whole body….the practice of Yoga-nidra begins now.
At this moment, make your resolve….it should be a short, positive statement, in simple language….stated three times with awareness, feeling, and emphasis….
Rotation Of Consciousness
We now begin rotation of consciousness, by taking a trip through the different parts of the body…. become aware of the right hand….the right hand thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, fifth finger, palm, back of the hand, the wrist, the lower arm, the elbow, the upper arm, the shoulder, the armpit, the waist, the hip, the thigh, the knee, the calf muscle, the ankle, the heel, the sole, the top of the right foot, the big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe…. become aware of the left hand thumb, second finger, third finger, fourth finger, fifth finger, palm, back of the hand, the wrist, the lower arm, the elbow, the upper arm, the shoulder, the armpit, the waist, the hip, the thigh, the knee, the calf muscle, the ankle, the heel, the sole, the top of the left foot, the big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, fifth toe…become aware of the back of the neck, the right shoulder-blade, the left shoulder-blade….the right buttock, the left buttock….the spine….the whole back…. the top of the head, the forehead, the right eye-brow, the left eye-brow, the eye-brow ce