Be a Yoga-tarian: Air becomes breath.
Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News By Dr Rupal Merchant, Special to Gulf News
Let's continue our discussion on pranayama. Breathing and thinking are two important processes.
One for sustaining life and the other to give purpose to life.
Most people breathe incorrectly, using only a small part of their lung capacity. Their breathing is generally shallow depriving the body of oxygen and prana essential to its good health.
Let's discuss 4 to 5 practices, which are basic pranayama and can be done at home.
First learn to be aware of your breathing. This itself will slow down your respiratory rate and will slowly establish a more relaxed rhythm. Practise deep abdominal breathing - as discussed in my previous blog - to remove any stress and attain calmness.
These are the common pranayama practices:
1) anulom vilom or alternate nostril breathing
It is a very relaxed, balancing breathing technique that is used to help calm the nervous system and aid in a restful night's sleep. By increasing the amount of oxygen taken into the body, it's believed that this breath can also purify the blood, calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote concentration.
How to do it:
It can be done in a seated position. Be comfortable. Keep your spine erect.
Using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril.
Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest. Once you are full of breath, close your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. Be sure to exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Close both nostrils once you've inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you're just starting out, you can do a four-count inhalation, holding your breath for four to eight counts, and then exhale for four counts. Perform up to 10 cycles and notice how your body responds. You may feel more relaxed and calm, both in mind and body.
This is a soothing breathing technique that can be done at any time of the day. Try practicing this technique when you are anxious, nervous, or having trouble falling asleep
Benefits: Breathing through the right nostril tends to activate the left brain hemisphere and breathing through the left nostril tends to activate the right brain hemisphere. Also the flow of breath in both nostrils becomes more balanced.
2) Kapalabhati Pranayama
Kapalabhati means 'skull shining breath'. It's a pranayama exercise as well as an internal kriya , or cleansing technique. Practitioners of kapalabhati believe that this breath will help clear mucus in the air passages, relieve congestion, reduce bloating, and improve lung capacity. Kapalabhati is an invigorating breathing technique.
How to do it: Start by sitting in a comfortable position with a tall, straight spine, and exhale completely. Inhale briefly through both nostrils, then sharply exhale while pulling your navel in towards your spine. The exhalation is short and quick, but very active, while the inhalation is short and passive. Again, pull your navel in as you exhale and soften it on the inhalation. Do one round of 30 (counting your exhalations) and rest for a minute with some deep breaths in between. Repeat. If this seems strenuous, start with 15 and gradually work your way up.
When to do it: Kapalabhati is great to do in the morning if you're feeling sluggish. You may also try it when you're feeling congested or bloated, but don't try it on a full stomach.
Benefits: it helps in removing toxins from your body, and fills your blood with good oxygen. This practice helps in developing the power of concentration. It energizes your mind and so removes sluggishness.
Avoid this technique if you are pregnant, or suffer from blood pressure issues or heart conditions.
3) Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi means victorious breath; it's also referred to as ocean breath due to the sound it creates. This breath is often used in asana (posture) practice, especially in ashtanga and vinyasa yoga classes. Ujjayi encourages full expansion of the lungs, and, by focusing your attention on your breath, it can assist in calming the mind.
How to do it: Find a place where you can sit comfortably with a straight spine. Take a steady breath in through both nostrils. Inhale until you reach your lung capacity; maintain a tall spine. Hold your breath for a second, then constrict some of the breath at the back of your throat, as if you were about to whisper a secret, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This exhalation will sound like an ocean wave or gentle rush of air. You should feel the air on the roof of your mouth as you exhale. Repeat up to 20 times.
When to do it: This breath can be practiced for up to 10 minutes at any time of day.
Benefits: Ujjayi is classified as a soothing pranayama. It soothes the nervous system, and calms the mind. It has a profound relaxing effect at a psychic level. It helps to relieve insomnia. It is useful for people suffering from high blood pressure as it slows down the heart rate.
4) Sheetkari Pranayama (sitali)
Sitali also means cooling, which explains the effect it can have on your mind and body. This breath encourages clearing heat with coolness. It's especially helpful during summer and in hot climes like that of the UAE.
How to do it: Make an oval shape with your mouth, separating lips and exposing your teeth, keeping your tongue flat. Inhale through your mouth, taking in all the air that you can. It may make a hissing sound. After inhaling, bring the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and close your lips. Feel the coolness of the inhalation in your mouth, then exhale through your nose. Repeat five to ten times or as needed.
When to do it: If you're feeling overheated, irritable, or find yourself waiting impatiently in hot weather, sitali is a great tool to try to cool off and relax!
Benefits: This practice cools the body by affecting the brain areas associated with temperature regulation.
Contraindication: Those suffering from respiratory disorders like asthma or bronchitis should not practice this.
Breathing is one of the most natural things we do. It is a gift and a very powerful tool that can enable us to create more ease and balance in our lives. Taking time to focus on breath allows us to pause from daily stresses, physical symptoms, and emotions that have taken over the mind. It is in that moment where we focus on the breath that we can return to a neutral state of being, gain clarity, feel rejuvenated, and have an overall sense of well-being.
These are just a few wonderful reasons to invite a pranayama practice into your daily routine.
Editor's Note: The blogger is a homeopath, lifelong vegetarian and high level yoga practitioner.
Anjaneyasna or Crescent Moon Pose or Low Lunge Pose
Begin in Downward Facing Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana. On an exhale, step your right foot forward between your hands. It should be aligned to the back foot.
Lower down your left knee, gently, till it touches the mat. The upper side of your foot is also flat on the mat.
Ensure that the right knee is directly above the right ankle, and isn't moving forward or outward to the left or right. This will ensure that your knee is not affected.
Slowly sink your tailbone down to deepen the stretch.
Meanwhile, lift your arms up and sweep them back, as you go into a back bend. Your arms are parallel to your ears. If your shoulders are not very flexible you can interlock the fingers.
Lean forward a little to relieve pressure from the lower back, if it is injured or inflamed.
To come out of the pose, place your palms down on the mat, and make your way back into Downward Facing Dog. Take several breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles
Stretches the hips
Relieves sciatica pain
Expands your chest, lungs and shoulders
Develops stamina and endurance in your thighs
Improves your balance, concentration and core awareness
Please do this pose under supervision of a qualified yoga practitioner.
Do not do this pose if you have any hear-related conditions.
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