By Gopi Rao
Why are pranayama techniques important? Often underrated, pranayama is the fourth limb mentioned within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Pranayama refers to the deep and deliberate breathing associated with yoga. More specifically, pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “control of the life force.” Pranayama is often referred to as breath control, or yogic breathing. Pranayama techniques are beneficial in keeping the heart, lungs, and body healthy.
Bhastrika pranayama directly affects the lungs, and is often recommended for ailments associated with the respiratory system. While no cures are promised, Bhastrika should be practiced every day, from two minutes to five minutes. To perform Bhastrika, sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Breathe in through the nose forcefully, filling up the lungs completely, then immediately and with equal force release the air from the lungs. Repeat the process several times, stopping if you feel tired.
Kapalbhati is a shatkarma and possibly the most well known of all pranayama techniques. Kapalbhati will improve the health of the entire body, and can even aid with ailments of all kinds. However, it is a dynamic yoga technique and is not suggested in cases when a student has a hernia. The pace of Kapalbhati can be slowed down to meet the needs of students who need restorative pranayama techniques, It is best to practice Kapalbhati in the morning, on an empty stomach. Sit comfortably with a straight spine. To practice Kapalbhati pranayama, inhale normally and exhale forcefully. Use the abdominal muscles to pull the air in and push it out. As you exhale, it is helpful to visualize you are throwing all of the negative energy, disease, anger, or stress from the body.
Bahya is helpful for all of the stomach’s organs as it massages the internal organs by using the lungs to compress against surrounding organs. Sit comfortably in Easy pose. For the dynamic version: Breathe in deeply, then push all of the air completely out of the lungs. Then, with the breath still “outside” the body, touch your chin to your chest and pull up the diaphragm and groin muscles, holding for up to 10 to 15 seconds. Carefully, release the groin, diaphragm and chin one by one and breathe normally to complete the pranayama. Repeat one to three times a day. For students who need to go easy, slow everything down, do not force, and avoid breath retention.The point being: You can customize all of the pranayama techniques to meet the needs of your mind and body.
Ujjayi pranayama is practiced for many reasons, but few people realize this powerful technique can be practiced gently before bedtime and some people get a good night’s sleep. To practice: Sit in a comfortable position. Take a long, thin breath by constricting the throat while you inhale through both nostrils. This will produce a hissing sound as the air travels through the throat. Then, exhale slowly, and repeat three times a day. After a few days’ practice, you can hold your breath in after the slow inhale and touch the chin to the side of the chest and hold for up to 10 seconds. One again, breath retention is an option, not a requirement. Students with high blood pressure, heart problems, or who are pregnant are advised to avoid breath retention.
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