Breathing – an essential thing that our body does automatically. It is the first and last thing that we do. But so often overlooked and taken for granted.
Growing up with sinusitis, I always struggled with proper breathing / clear nasal airway. But I did not think much about it. It is only when I started practicing Yoga that I realize the importance of breath. During lessons, we went through the practice of breath control – Prāṇāyāma. It consists of synchronizing the breath with movements.
On a physical level, by using Prāṇāyāma techiques, we are able to strengthen our respiratory organs, regulate the inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath. On an emotional level, our breathing patterns are also very closely linked to our emotive states. We breathe differently when we are experiencing anger, sadness. Being more aware and conscious of our breath, we are able to use Prāṇāyāma techiques to regulate our emotive state.
Below are some examples of the different types of Prāṇāyāma that we can practice daily:
Heating pranayama techniques are highly vitalising and energizing.
Kapalabhati – The emphasis is on the exhalation through strong, fast abdominal contractions.
Bhastrika – It is similar to Kapalabhati, except that for Bhastrika, both the inhale and exhale are forceful. It is physically and energetically more intense and demanding than Kapalabhati.
One physical benefit of the above 2 pranayama techniques is that it strengthens the abdominal muscles and digestive organs while one mental benefit is that it is beneficial for preparing the mind for work that requires focus.
Note: The above two are strong pranayama and not suited for everyone (e.g. pregnant, period, high blood pressure).
The flow of breath in each nostril is intimately connected with the left and right side of our body. The right nostril represents Pingala Nadi (Solar energy) and the left nostril represents Ida Nadi (Moon energy). Balancing pranayama techniques are used for purification of the energy channels in our body.
Nadi Shodhana – This is also known as alternate nostril breathing. Firstly, start inhaling from the left nostril with slow, deep and rhythmic breath while keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb. At the end of inhalation close the left nostril and open the right and breathe slowly and deeply. After exhalation through the right nostril, inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This completes one round of the practice.
One physical benefit is that it enhances the vital capacity of our lungs and helps to relax the rhythms of the heart and nervous system and one mental benefit is that it calms our mind.
Cooling pranayama techniques leaves a cooling effect on the body. It cools down the body, especially the brain.
Sheetali – Roll the tongue into a tube-like structure, through which one inhales deeply and then at the end of inhalation one closes the mouth and exhales through the nose.
Sheetkari – Roll the tongue up behind the teeth. Lips are opened and teeth are exposed. A long, slow and deep breath is taken through the mouth and at the end of inhalation, lips are closed and exhalation happens through the nose. When one inhales though the teeth, the breath creates a hissing sound and results in a cooling effect in the mouth region.
One physical benefit is that it enables us to cool our body down when excessive heat is generated and one mental benefit is that it helps us to relax and helps with insomnia.
The environment that I have placed myself in is always in a rush, rushing to get work done, rushing for class etc, leaving me barely any time to catch my breath. Let this be a reminder that amidst all the happenings in our life, we should set aside time to be more aware of our breath, and in turn our physical and emotive states.