With the amount of pills, medication and cleansing techniques available it can be confusing to determine what is best for your body. However, long before any of these methods were available the yogis of India had been using a natural method for cleansing their bodies and minds. The technique they use is so simple that anyone can do it, and nothing more is required than something we already do naturally – breathing.
Breathing in and out comes naturally to us all, but pranayama teaches us how to breathe in different ways. There are specific methods of inhaling, exhaling and retaining our breath as well as different patterns of breathing.
Although we can stop eating or drinking for a while and still survive, the same cannot be said about breathing. This is a clear indication of how vital breathing is and why pranayama is so effective. Our breathing is also connected to our emotions, which is why it is soft and slow while calm and faster when agitated.
The Benefits Of Pranayama
Through the ancient practice of pranayama it is possible to increase the metabolism of our bodies, burn fat and even detoxify. Minerals and vitamins are absorbed easier, our lymphatic system is enhanced and white blood cells increase, all by simply bringing in more oxygen. Even the act of exhaling results in the removal of toxins from our bloodstreams, which in turn leads to clearer thoughts and can revitalize our organs.
Medical research has been performed that can confirm the benefits of pranayama. For example, one study found that participants experienced improved ventilatory functions after a few weeks of performing pranayama. In fact, even people suffering from ailments, such as asthma, can benefit from pranayama, according to studies. To experience the difference that pranayama can make in your life, get started with the following exercises.
Alternate Nostril Breath
If you feel the need to become calm and balance your mind, the alternate nostril breath is a great technique. Start out by sitting in a meditation posture with your legs crossed. Make sure that you are sitting up straight, but keep your shoulders relaxed. If you are not comfortable sitting on the floor you can also make use of a chair for this technique.
Fold the index and middle finger of your right hand down until they touch your palm. Close your right nostril lightly with your thumb while inhaling through your left nostril. As you inhale, count to four, six or eight, and then hold that breath for a count of four, six or eight seconds.
Use your ring finger to close your left nostril after uncovering the right and then exhale. Then inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left to complete the cycle. Repeat this cycle five times to calm and clear the mind. Many practitioners of yoga prefer performing this technique at the start or end of their session.
The Three-Part Breath is one of the techniques that can be performed anytime and anywhere, as you do not need to make any special sounds or assume any strange positions. It is said to calm the mind and helps with bringing awareness to the present moment.
While sitting in a comfortable position or lying on your back, gently rest one of your hands on your belly. Place the other hand on your rib cage and then close your eyes. Continue to breathe naturally, but deeply, while focusing on the breath that is going in and out of your body. You will be able to feel your belly lift as well as your ribs expanding as you inhale and then the drop while you exhale.
After a few breaths, place your bottom hand on the area below your collarbone. Feel as your chest rises slightly while breathing into this area and then exhale. As you continue to focus your mind on your breathing you can release your arms and inhale as well as exhale fully. The benefit of this technique is that the amount of air you inhale and exhale can be up to six times as much as during normal breathing.
To perform the “Conqueror Breath,” also known as the “Victorious Breath” begin by inhaling through your nose. Then slowly exhale the breath through your mouth while keeping it wide open. As you direct the breath across the back of your throat, make a drawn-out “Hah” sound.
After repeating this several times to get into the rhythm, close your mouth and continue to inhale and exhale through your nose. Once again direct the breath across the back of your throat as you did while your mouth was open. If done correctly, you should hear a soft hissing sound. This technique removes toxins from the body while oxygenating the blood.
Another technique for calming your mind while also gaining inspiration is the “Bumblebee Breath.” To perform this technique, close your eyes using your thumbs and then close your ears. Lightly cover the eyelids of your closed eyes using your remaining fingertips. Firstly, inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale while letting out a long, humming sound.
Because your eyes and ears are closed, the sound will have a reverberating effect and should sound like it is made by a buzzing bee. While performing this breathing exercise, focus your inner gaze on the point between your eyebrows, known as the third eye.
Breath Of Fire
When you have become accustomed to performing pranayama you can move on to more of its advanced techniques, such as the “Breath of Fire.” It is also known as the “Cleaning Breath,” as it purifies both the nasal passages as well as the lungs. This technique also helps with making you feel more alert, as it brings oxygen to the brain.
The easiest way to perform this technique is to open your mouth and pant like a dog to get into the rhythm. Then continue the panting breath with your mouth closed and using your nose instead. Continue for thirty seconds, and then take a few deep breaths before doing another set of thirty seconds.
The Vitalizing Breath
The “Vitalizing Breath” is a technique that involves the retention of breath, so be sure not to overdo it. Firstly, sit in a comfortable position and then place the forefinger and middle finger of your right hand on your forehead. The fingers should rest on the spot on your forehead between your eyebrows.
Close your left nostril using your ring finger, and then fill your lungs slowly using the right nostril. While holding your breath, close the right nostril with your thumb. Drop your chin to your chest (known as a chin lock) and perform a root lock while still holding your breath. Release both locks and exhale through the left nostril while still keeping the right one closed.
Pranayama can be very beneficial to your health and well-being, but people with certain medical conditions should exercise caution. Anyone suffering from high blood pressure should also refrain from performing these breathing techniques.