Kundalini Yoga Breathwork (Pranayama)
“In me, I have found only one reality – that I breathe in and I breathe out. And so anything that breathes in or out is reality. When I found this as a reality in everybody, I found myself in eveybody and everybody in myself.”
— Yogi Bhajan, Master Teacher of Kundalini Yoga
In Kundalini Yoga, we use conscious breathing as a tool for balancing mental and emotional states and for increasing vitality in the body. Each breath brings oxygen and life and provides the opportunity to connect consciously to the moment. By breathing slow, deep breaths, we can release tension, bring stillness to the mind, and calm the body physically. Other breathing techniques use a faster, more energized breath (such as “Breath of Fire”) to increase energy in the body, bring focus, and build the inner heat of detoxification in the body. Each breath exercise in Kundalini Yoga has a specific purpose and approach to better the health of the body and mind.
Long Deep Breathing- for Peace and Calm
This breath can be done throughout your day. It is especially useful if you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious. It is simple yet very effective; This breath can help the lungs expand to around 8 times their normal size! Practice several times a day and notice how your mind and body respond!
How to do it:
* Begin by increasing your awareness of how your breath is naturally flowing. Notice where the breath moves in your body and listen to the sound of your inhalation and exhalation.
* After a few breaths, begin to deepen and expand the breath and make sure you are breathing through your nose. As you inhale, draw the breath into the belly- allow the belly to expand with the breath. Continuing this inhalation, expand through the rib cage and upper chest.
* It may be helpful to place one hand on your belly to feel the expansion as your inhale. Take as much time as you need to get a full, deep breath.
* Then, as you begin your exhalation, relax the chest, the rib cage, and, finally, the belly. At the end of your exhalation, the belly should draw in slightly- as if helping the breath move out. The breath should become a bit louder than it was before you began the long, deep breathing.
* Continue this breath, making it slower, deeper, and more complete.
Breath of Fire – for Energy, Focus, and Vitality
Breath of Fire is a rapid, rhythmic, and continuous breath that sounds like powerful sniffing. The breath is forcefully exhaled by rapidly contracting the diaphragm and pulling the navel point toward the spine. The inhale occurs naturally as the diaphragm relaxes and air flows effortlessly back in without a sharp intake or effort. The inhale and exhale are equal length and usually occur 2 to 3 times per second. This breath is great as “pick-me-up” if you are feeling lethargic or unfocused. It can be done throughout your day- for 30 seconds to 3 minutes- if you need to increase your energy.
How to do it:
* Take a deep breath in, through your nose, and feel your stomach relaxing outward. Exhale, through your nose, as you pull the stomach back in.
* Inhale again. As you exhale out this time, pull the solar plexus (the area above the navel) back toward the spine with a pumping motion. The exhaled air should leave the nose in a forceful sniff.
* Immediately relax the solar plexus and let the air come back in with a sniff.
* There should be no pause between the inhalation and exhalation. Continue the pumping motion with the sniffing breath.
* In the beginning, it may be easier to simply concentrate on the exhale as you pull in on the solar pelxus and let the inhale come naturally as you relax the solar plexus.
* At no time should the breath of fire be practiced beyond your current level of comfort. If at any point you begin to feel strain, breathlessness, or pain, stop the attempt at breath of fire and relax the breath.
* If often takes practice and time to become familiar with this breath and, when familiar, there is a sense of joyful rythm and boundless energy.
Left Nostril Breathing – to Soothe a Busy Mind and Rest
This method of breathing is a useful tool when the mind is dizzy with thoughts, there is a sense of nervous tension, or when you are having trouble getting to sleep at night. It is a soothing, calming, cooling breath.
How to do it:
* Start with a long, deep breath (as described above.)
* Place the thumb of your right hand against the right nostril, pressing it closed.
* Allow the breath to move in and out of the left nostril only.
* Keep the breath smooth, slow, and deep.
* If you are feeling congested, usually the left nostril will open with practice.
* The benefit of this technique is best achieved if the breath is kept through the left nostril.
* If practicing this breath when trying to go to sleep, lay on your right side. (This will help direct the breath through the left nostril.)
* Practice for 3-11 minutes, or as long as you feel is needed.