By Faye Martins
Is there a good and bad of Bhastrika Pranayama? Bhastrika Pranayama literally means “bellows breath,” which consists of inhaling and exhaling fairly quick and with force, 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 Lotus Pose, Easy Pose or any comfortable crossed-leg position. Inhale fully, inflating the mid-section and chest, rather than the abdomen alone. 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. Some practitioners and teachers believe, 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 generally recommended time period for Bhastrika Pranayama. However, if you want to go easy, breath retention is an option and the pace is entirely up to you. I personally like Bhastrika in the “slow lane.” Just because you see somebody else practicing a dynamic version of Bhastrika, doesn’t mean you have to do the same.
Enthusiasts say, when Bhastrika is performed correctly, this breathing exercise helps provide the body with maximum oxygen, which makes the skin glow. Other anecdotal evidence includes reducing toxins in the body, increasing warmth in the body, strengthening the immune system, and reducing respiratory tract ailments. Blood purification and weight loss are also claimed to be benefits of “bellows breathing.” It is said that this is the secret to ageless skin and beauty! Nevertheless, medical science asks us to look deeper with a narrow lens of research, study, and trials. Does Bhastrika make us feel better? Of course it does, but medical science demands proof. Until claims are scientifically proven, there will be a reserved sense of enthusiasm among medical professionals for all forms of pranayama.
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 breathe deeply and forcefully when you feel faint may lead to hyperventilation, so it is important to stop immediately if dizziness occurs. One point to consider is: Moderate paced Bhastrika seems to have the same healthy effect as the fast-paced dynamic version and there is less chance of dizziness without taking excessive risks. Practitioners should be aware about the risks of hyperventilation.
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 very serious heart problems, which is one more reason why Bhastrika Pranayama must be avoided in those with heart 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. When in doubt, always consult with your physician regarding any form of pranayama, asana, or exercise. Ultimately, teachers and practitioners must realize that moderate paced pranayama techniques are a safe bet for longevity.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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