Restore Balance In Your Mind & Body With Pranayama

“I took a deep breath and listened to that old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” – Sylvia Plath

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Breathing is something that we do involuntarily, day in, day out. It comes as no surprise that we hardly ever think about it.

However, the breath is closely connected to the mind and body – so even if we don’t realise it, they can actually influence one another.

When we develop the awareness and learn to breathe consciously, we can then create balance in the mind and body. This can be especially useful since we live in a fast paced world and sometimes forget to slow down.

If you’re dealing with stress on the regular, pranayama (life force extension via the breath) can do wonders for you. For those who simply wish to improve your well-being and health, it is a great tool for you too.

After all, studies have shown that having a regular practice of simple, deep breathing can reduce anxiety and depression, boost energy levels, improve immunity and reduce feelings of stress, among other benefits.

Ready to make every breath count? Try any one (or all) of the below techniques to restore balance in your mind and body!

1. Kabalabathi

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Kabalabathi translates to skull shining, and as its name suggests, this breathing technique rejuvenates the mind and body. Also, it improves memory and concentration as well as enhances blood circulation.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position with your hands on your knees
  • Keep your spine straight and close your eyes
  • With both nostrils, take a deep breath
  • Pull the stomach inward and exhale sharply in short bursts
  • Follow each exhale with an automatic inhale
  • Repeat the process for 10 to 15 minutes

2. Anulom Vilom

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Anulom Vilom, or alternate nostril breathing, helps to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It also boosts memory and improves lung function.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • With your right hand, bring down your index and middle finger to your palm, and use your thumb to close your right nostril
  • Inhale through the left nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale from the right nostril for 6 counts
  • Inhale through the right nostril for 3 counts
  • Close the right nostril and exhale from the left nostril for 6 counts
  • Repeat this process for 5 minutes and focus on every inhalation and exhalation

3. Ujjayi

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Ujjayi is also known as ocean breath, simply because of the sound you’ll make when you exhale.

If you love being by the beach, take a moment to enjoy the ocean wave-like exhalation sounds while improving your focus, clearing sinus and staying positive, among other benefits.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a comfortable cross legged position
  • Inhale gently, in a long deep breath, from both nostrils
  • As you inhale, contract your throat and avoid letting the air touch your nose
  • With relaxed and light breathing, exhale with your mouth open or closed and repeat 3 – 4 times

Human Anatomy and Yoga –

The practice of Yoga on the human body system is expansive and eternal. The muscles, bones, nervous system, respiratory, circulatory and digestive systems of the human body are greatly benefited from regular practice of yoga asanas. All our body systems are coordinated with each other. It’s a beautiful practice that teaches us to work from the inside out, as it draws our attention inward and teaches you to focus on the breath. I have also learnt that yoga has tremendous healing capabilities. We discover not just how our body systems are intrinsically coordinated, but also how our physical, mental and spiritual selves are connected too. Once we are able to see the connectedness, we understand the Self more, hence healing takes place.

Today we will dive deeper into the relationship between Yoga and the muscular and skeletal systems, together with a few examples of muscle groups engaged for yoga poses. Yoga practice allows the lengthening and loosening of muscle and the connective tissue (such as fascia) of the body. Regular practice develops strong muscles which help the body to align the skeletal system. Unlike with weight-lifting, yoga allows us to build strength within the muscles, while simultaneously creating flexibility. One vital effect of yoga on muscular systems is that it allows us to be more pliable and keeps joint pains and disorders at bay.

Muscular

There are 3 types of muscles in our bodies: namely,

  1. Smooth
    Also known as the involuntary muscles, these are not attached to the bones. Urinary, genital and respiratory track are made of smooth muscles. The best examples of involuntary muscles are those of the stomach, the intestines and the heart. The walls of arteries are also made up of involuntary muscles.
  2. Cardiac
    Being an involuntary muscle, they are the muscles which are present in the heart to frame up the cardiac tissue.
  3. Skeletal
    Also known as voluntary muscles, these are attached to the bones. They are related to the central nervous system. The bulky fleshy part in the middle of the muscle is the belly of the muscle. They are the largest part of the muscular tissue, consciously controlled. They may be directly attached to the bone or the cartilage to increase the efficiency of the system.

Yoga asanas relieve muscular tension by means of the slow contraction and lengthening of certain muscle groups. The muscles are stretched for a length of time and then are allowed to relax and regenerate. This allows the muscles to absorb and be enriched by nutrients, oxygen, and prana. As the muscles become more flexible, toned, and supple.

Types of actions taken by muscles:

  1. Concentric Contraction
    The muscle fibers contract and generate more force than the resistance that is present so that the ends of the muscle slide toward each other and the muscle shortens.
  2. Eccentric Contraction
    The muscle fibers contract and generate less force than the resistance that is present so that the ends of the muscle slide apart and the muscle actually lengthens. The muscle is active as it lengthens, so this is not the same as relaxing the muscle.
  3. Isometric Contraction
    The muscle fibers contract and generate the same amount of force as the resistance that is present so that the ends of the muscle neither move apart nor move together and the length of the muscle does not change. (Eg. Holding a yoga pose, or holding a glass of water in mid air)

 

Above in the image you can see the examples of concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions.

The elasticity of a muscle can be extended within its normal limits. One of the goals of yoga is to work the muscles and increase the resting length. If done consistently, the static stretching of Hatha Yoga, where a pose is held for a period of time, can help to increase the resting length of the muscles. This makes them more flexible and resilient. Yoga asanas induces greater flexibility faster than other methods because each stretch extends the normal elasticity limit of the muscles gently, thoroughly, and in a relaxed manner. They are designed to work with opposing muscle groups. When we work with these agonist and antagonist muscles, one contracts or shortens while the other is lengthened. For example, when one performs paschimottanasana, the hamstrings are lengthened or extended while the quadriceps are shortened. When one performs salabhasana, the quadriceps are lengthened or extended while the hamstrings are shortened. These two asanas work well together to stretch and tone a set of agonist and antagonist muscles — the hamstrings and quadriceps. 

Yoga asanas also strengthen the tendons and ligaments, keeping them healthier and more flexible. Tendons are connective tissue that bind muscle to bone, and ligaments are fibrous bands or sheets of connective tissue that bind bone to other bones. They are not as easily stretched as actual muscle tissue. If a person’s posture and balance are good, the tendons and ligaments will remain strong and elastic, supporting the skeleton more efficiently. 

Skeletal

Linking to the skeletal system, now you see how the two systems, muscular and skeletal are linked in yoga practice.

I will start by talking about the spine, as the spine is a central focus in yoga practice. Not only is it a conduit for the flow of prana into the body and nervous system, but it is one of the most important sections of the anatomy because it allows us to move, turn, rotate, and live in an incredibly mobile way. The more flexible the spine remains throughout our life, the more mobile and flexible our entire body will be. 

A healthy spine contains four natural curves, sometimes called an s-curve — two are concave (lumbar and cervical) and two are convex (coccyx and thoracic). Ideally all four should be preserved with no excess compression on the vertebrae or curving in other areas of the spine. Asana helps in maintaining elongation of the spine and thus the proper curvature.

Yoga asanas aligns and lengthens the spinal column, allowing greater flexibility and range of motion. Keeping the spine flexible increases the circulation to it and also massages the inner articulations of the spine. This stimulates the muscles and nerves and increases the blood flow to the entire spinal area. The spine must be continually loosened and exercised. Otherwise the vertebrae tend to become compressed and squeezed together into smaller and smaller areas of the spine. Yoga asanas help to alleviate stiffness in the spine, loosen the vertebrae, and create a healthier “space” between them. This decompresses the spine, helping to alleviate tension in the muscles, tendons, and joints.

Proper joint articulation is important for flexibility and overall health. Asana practice helps to keep the articulation of the joints soft rather than hard and brittle. Joints allow for the independent movement of specific parts of the body. As our muscles become tense, the spaces between the joints become compressed. In extreme cases, the synovial membrane can become damaged and cartilage can wear down (arthritis). Prolonged muscular tension can also cause joint pain of various types and degrees. Proper alignment and muscle tone, which are achieved through asana practice, help to alleviate this and yield greater flexibility. The gentle stretching of the asanas relaxes the body and mind, releases tension, and creates a sense of space for movement around every joint in the body. This in turn allows for a freer flow of prana. 

 

 

Kapalabhati – Skull Shinning Breath

What is Kapalabhati Pranayama?

In Sanskrit kapal means “skull” and bhati means “shining.” Together they mean “shining skull.” Kapalabhati is considered to be so cleansing to the entire system that, when practiced on a regular basis, the face shines with good health and radiance.

Kapalbhati is an excellent breathing exercise to warm up the respiratory system and internally warm up your body in preparation for the following physical practice. It is an easier version of the pranayama Bhastrika and suitable for most levels of experience and fitness.

I have recently started  Kapalabhati pranayama first thing in the morning to wake my body and mind so I can energise my day with an awaken body and breath. I can definitely feel the positive difference!

How to do Kapalabhati pranayama?

Let’s begin with the setting up

 

Let’s begin Kapalabhati

  1. Inhale deeply through both nostrils, chest expands
  2. Expel the breath through forceful contractions of abdominal muscles with belly in and relax
  3. complete 30 rapid breath in  1 round. 
  4. After each round, deep passive long inhalation and relax before next round
  5. Recommended 3 rounds and also on empty stomach

What are the benefits?

It has been proven and shown that by including Kapalabhati in one’s daily routine, it has many benefits :

  1. Increases the metabolic rate and aids in weight loss
  2. Clears the nadis (subtle energy channels)
  3. Stimulates abdominal organs and thus is extremely useful to those with diabetes
  4. Improves blood circulation and adds radiance to the face
  5. Cleanses the skull 
  6. Improves digestive tract functioning, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients
  7. Results in a taut and trimmed down belly
  8. Energizes the nervous system and rejuvenates brain cells
  9. Calms and uplifts the mind

Who should avoid practicing Kapalabhati pranayama

Avoid practicing this breathing technique if you have an artificial pacemaker or stent, epilepsy, hernia, backache due to slip disc, or have recently undergone abdominal surgery.

Women should not practice Skull Shining Breathing technique during and shortly after pregnancy as well as during menstruation as it involves vigorous abdominal squeezes.

People with hypertension and heart problems should practice this breathing technique only under a yoga expert’s guidance.

 

Conclusion

In our 200hr YTT, we have been introduced to different pranayamas and I am super grateful to learn all different types.

I personally practice Kapalabhati pranayama first thing in the morning when I wake up on an empty stomach to awaken my body and mind. I also practice it during times of mental stress or hectic at work  just to cleanse my skull for a better concentration and focus. It definitely helps me overall in for my health and mental.

 

 

Steady Breath : Steady Mind

Pranayama is a compound word in Sanskrit composed of ‘prana’ + ‘ayama’. Pranayama is a process of regulating the intake and outflow of breath in a firmly established posture. When the flow of breath is observed through its natural phases of inhale-pause-exhale-pause, the breath becomes smoother and its effects more subtle. Through delicate observation, the breath is refined. When breath is refined and steady, the mind also is refined and steady. Pranayama is the 4th limb of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patajanli and Patanjali reminds us that the 8 limbs must be done in sequence. Meaning we have to prepare the mind and body through Yama, Niyama and Asanas first before attempting to do Pranayama. If we attempt to do Pranayama prior to properly preparing the body and mind, tension might increase and cause harm.

Pranayama is one of the ways to attain peace and self awareness. Pranayama is channelling the energy to the 72 nadis in our body, helping us improve our well-being.

The 8 major pranayama types are:

Nadi Sodhana – this yoga pranayama is innovative and specialized in bringing balances of all the three doshas of the human body — the mind, body, and soul. For performing Nadi Sodhna, you need to sit in a comfortable in a cross-legged position. Now use the right hand to close the right side of your nose, inhale deeply with the left nostril. Repeat the same with left nostril. Practice it for 10 -15 times every day.

Shitali Pranayama – this is the most refreshing breathing exercise. You need to roll your tongue in an “O” shape and start to inhale through the mouth. Hold your breath and practice Jalandhar bandh. Do exhalation from your nostrils after some time. You can repeat it five to ten times. Shitali Pranayama mitigates pitta and increases Kapha and Vata doshas.

Ujjayi Pranayama – this type of pranayama is about mimicking the sound the ocean or waves by inhaling from your nostrils and making sound from the throat. Seat in a comfortable position, start inhaling, and exhaling from your mouth. Constrict your throat as if something is chocking, it will create an oceanic sound. Repeat it for ten to fifteen times; you will experience betterment in throat related issues.

Kapalabhati Pranayama – this type of pranayama is wholly related to deep inhalation and forceful exhalation of air in a yogic position. Air from the lungs is exhaled forcefully, but inhalation is done involuntarily. Kapalabhati Pranayama is liked for improving alertness and concentration. It also strengthens abdominal muscles and helps to burn calories.

Bhastrika Pranayama – this pranayama is best for increasing the blood circulation in the body. It also activates body channels. For practicing Bhastrika Pranayama, you need to sit in a Padmasana position, keeping your spine straight and eyes close. Inhale deeply with nostrils; fill your lungs with air and then exhale forcefully through nostrils so that your stomach will go deep inside. Bhastrika Pranayama helps a lot in calming your mind. Any asthma patient can practice it to remove inflammation of the throat.

Bhramari Pranayama – this is the humming bee pranayama that mimics the sound of a bee. Bhramari Pranayama is done by closing your ears with the thumb and eyes with the help of fingers. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly making a buzzing sound like that of a bee. Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama are an increase in concentration and memory improvement.

Anuloma & Viloma Pranayama – this is alternate breathing exercise. It involves pausing of breathing at regular intervals. It is divided into two stages called as paused inhalation and paused exhalation. You need to lie down in a comfortable position and relax your body and mind. Now inhale for 2 to 3 seconds and pause, then again restart inhalation and pause after 2 seconds. Repeat the process until the lungs feel full of air. Exhale slowly. It is known as Viloma pranayama. Whereas, Anuloma pranayama is breathing nostrils in an alternative way. Both are almost same and help in cleansing of nasal passages.

Sheetkari Pranayama – this is more like the Shitali Pranayama but with changes in practice. In this pranayama, you have to produce “Sheetkar” sound from the mouth. Inhale air by keeping your tongue behind the teeth. Apply the Jalandhar bandh and hold your breath. Exhale air using the nostrils. This pranayama should be practiced in summer for five to ten times. It will keep your body temperature under control.

I have been trying to incorporate pranayama on my routine lately and have been doing Kapalabhati more than the rest. To do kapalabhati one has to do the exhalations active and the inhalations passive thus sucking in the belly during exhalation. At first I didn’t know how to do it that I tucked my belly during the inhale. After a while I got it right and have been doing it everyday in the morning. One thing I noticed is that even if I didn’t have enough sleep after doing kapalabhati I would have enough energy to last through the day and also my bowel movement somehow improves. I also like Nadi Shodana or the alternate nostril breathing as it relaxes me especially during those stressful days at work and when I feel anxious with everything that’s happening around. At night, I usually just do deep breathing to prepare before sleep, those that the exhales are longer than the inhales.

Mastering pranayama is still a long way for me and I know for sure that I will be doing this more often and cultivate this together with meditation. Yoga, for me, is one big tool to learn to feel the fullness of life, to live joyfully and blissfully and I am still a work-in-progress and still a very long way ahead. I feel demotivated sometimes as I am struggling with many poses (asanas), regardless, I am continuing on in this journey.

Fourth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Pranayama

Pranayama is the fourth of the Eight Limbs of  Yoga, which is a practice of breath control in yoga, to purify the nadis (energy channel) and bring the energy to the unused or needed areas. The term is derived from the Sanskrit word, prana means the life force of energy and ayama means expansion.

Principal of pranayama:

• Puraka (inhalation)

• Rechakra (exhalation)

• Kumbhaka (retention)

• Antara Kumbhaka (internal retention)

• Bahya Kumbahka (external retention)

 

 

What’s the benefit of the Pranayama?

Pranayama is the conscious awareness of breath. Everyone knows how to breath even a newborn baby, but when you bring the awareness to the breath, it can brings us a lot of benefit to our body, mental and spiritual.

 

 

1. Increase the lungs capacity

In the pranayama practices, we send the fresh oxygen deeply to the lungs and it can increase the capacity of the lungs. Example, when we are reaching a mountain with high altitudes, we will find it is difficult to breath. A regulate breathing will be helpful in the high altitudes.

 

2. Improve cardiovascular health

The increase in blood circulation and oxygen capacity in the blood improve the cardiovascular health.

 

3. Improve immunity system and digestion

Stress and anxiety may cause the poor immune system and digestive diseases. Pranayama brings more oxygen to the body, helps the mind calm down and provide relief from the anxiety to boost the immune system and reduce those diseases issues.

 

4. Helps in weight loss

During the deeply breathing in pranayama practices, the more oxygen is brought into our body can let the metabolism more actively to burn a higher of calories.

 

5. Good for skin health

A beautiful glowing & radiant skin is every woman’s dream. Stress can make your skin appear dull, tired and worn out. When the stress level reduces and the internal purification systems are working well through Pranayama, you will have a natural glow to the skin by flushing out toxins from the body.

 

7. Heat/cool down the body

You can try to practice Ujjaji Pranayama and Kapalabhathi Pranayama to energize and warm up the body especially during the winter.

Cooling Pranayama has a cooling effect that brings down the body’s inner fire or Pitta Dosha. Sitali Pranayama or Shitkari Pranayama are the good practices to remove the excess heat from your body.

 

8. Concentrate the mind

Sutra 2.53 Dharanasu cha yogyata manasah

Dharanasu – for concentration

cha – and

yogyata – ability, fitness

manasah – mental, spiritual

Through the practice of the pranayama, after the veil is removed, the mind becomes capable to concentrate, which is important in the sixth to eighth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

 

9. Reduce the negative mind, stress, depression, insomnia and calm down

The most common mental health troubles of the modern people in the city are the depression, sleep disturbances, negative mind and anxiety. Pranayama in addition to meditation play a big role to reduce the mental problems.

 

10. Awaken kundalini

Pranayama is one of the methods to awaken the Kundalini. Kundalini identifies the arising of an energy and consciousness which has been coiled at the base of the spine since birth, and is the source of the life force. The other forms to awaken Kundalini are mantra, kriya, deep relaxation and meditation.

 

11. Connects the body with the mind

If we can control our breathing, we can control our mind. Pranayama helps us to control the mind and increase awareness oneself without distraction from the thoughts that constantly bombard our minds.

 

There are some easy Pranayama practices can be performed by the beginners.

⇒ Ujjayi Pranayama

⇒ Sitali Pranayama

⇒ Kapalabhati Pranayama

⇒ Nadi Shodhan Pranayama

 

Let us try and feel what’s the different before and after the practices!

Pranayama As a Tool To Combat Hypertonia

In the modern world there are many typical diseases that have become so popular that people stopped really caring about them. Hypertonia or high blood pressure is one of them. Although many people don’t feel it at all and therefore don’t treat it, its influence can be slow and sly: it affects target organs like brain and heart and eventually causes big troubles.

The only treatment classical evidence-based medicine offers are medications. But the problem with them is that curing one thing you inevitably cause problems in other parts of your precious body. Thus hypertonia – as well as any other illness – is much better to be addressed with a holistic approach.

As yoga itself is a very holistic system it can have positive impact on hypertonia as well. There’s no doubt meditation as well as many asanas are aimed to return your blood pressure back to normal but in this article I’m going to focus on the curing effect of two kinds of pranayama: Shetetali and Sheetkari.

There was held a randomized control trial with 60 hypertensive individuals, aged from 25 to 65, who were recruited from the general population located in and around Ujire, Belthangady, Karnataka, India. The study aimed to measure the effects of these types of pranayama on blood pressure, nervous system, and respiratory functions among hypertensive participants. They were divided into two equal sized groups where one half daily practised Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas 10 minutes each, and the second half was asked just to sit quietly for 20 minutes.

The participants who practised pranayama showed a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate. Therefore the study concluded that Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas appear effective.

 

How To Perform

Sheetali Pranayama:

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture and close your eyes.
  2. Keep your hands on your knees throughout the practice.
  3. Protrude your tongue from your mouth and extend it to a comfortable distance.
  4. Roll its sides up so that it forms a tube.
  5. Breathe slowly and deeply through the tube-like tongue.
  6. Close your mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through your nose.
  7. Repeat the same process for 10 minutes daily.

Sheetkari Pranayama:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditative posture and close your eyes.
  2. Keep your hands on your knees throughout the practice.
  3. Press your lower teeth and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as is comfortable.
  4. Breathe in slowly through the gaps in your teeth.
  5. Listen to the sound of your breath as the air is being drawn in.
  6. Close your mouth at the end of inhalation and slowly exhale through your nose.
  7. Repeat the process for 10 minutes daily.

 

Repeat the sequence of these two pranayamas for 30 days and probably you won’t need blood pressure medications any more.

Should you meditate?

meditate

/ˈmɛdɪteɪt/

verb

  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

 

 

Are you happy? Where do you derive happiness from? In this COVID-19 situation with a lot of negative news around the world, I actually don’t find myself smiling/laughing as much as before (it also doesn’t help that I’m partly separated from my family by the borders). 

 

Recently I watched a TED talk by Matt Killingsworth who did a study on people’s happiness moment-to-moment. Shall not dwell into the details, if you’re interested you can watch the entire video in this linkAnyway, the result of the study showed that people who are focusing on their task are generally happier and mind wandering is likely a cause of unhappiness. And it also suggests that people mind-wander at least 30% of the time. 

 

Let’s do some self reflection here, how many times in a day are we actually single-mindedly focused on our task at hand? I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of overloading my brain and mind, I even find it hard to watch a YouTube video by itself, there is always a window to play Tetris beside the YouTube video. Especially since this COVID-19 outbreak, working from home has introduced a lot more distractions. How many of us let our minds wander during a telcon, thinking about what to eat for lunch/dinner; thinking about that laundry that has yet to be done; thinking about when we can get to travel again? 

 

I might have wandered off, but we’re going to talk about meditation real soon. In a research that was conducted on 48 undergraduate students who were split into nutrition class and a mindfulness class (which consisted of focused-attention meditation and 10min of daily meditation outside of class) over a 2-week span. Results showed significant improvement in the working memory capacity of students who were in the mindfulness class.

The graphs show results for working memory capacity as a function of condition and testing session.

 

In both the probe-caught task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and self-reported TUTs, students in the mindfulness class showed a reduction in mind-wandering after 2 weeks.

The graph show results for self-reported task-unrelated thoughts as a function of condition and testing session.

 

Before I go into the scientific explanation as to why the results are this way, would like to talk a bit about meditation and what it is. The 6th limb of yoga is Dharana, defined as “The mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts; awareness of the object is still interrupted.” (Maehle (2006: p. 234)). This is the pre-step before meditation, Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga. In layman terms, meditation technically asks for the mind to be blank without any outstanding thoughts, not even one. 

 

Students in the above mentioned research are introduced to Dharana, where the mind is trained to concentrate and focus on only one thought, which could be the breathing. Like how athletes train to improve their performances; how we run to improve our stamina, we can also train our minds to concentrate. This is what meditation is about. We let go of the distractions in the world and learn to control our mind. We can concentrate on that one item we set our minds to without it wandering off thinking about what to eat next. 

 

If you’re just like me who struggles to maintain focus, there is good evidence (scientifically backed if you’re science-driven) pointing to meditation as a method to dampen distracting thoughts and reduce mind-wandering. I have been very long-winded, but to answer the question of whether to meditate, my answer is yes. 

 

P.S: Besides the points that I’ve presented above, there were also studies relating better working memory capacity to improvements in IQ. So, if you’d like to be happy and improve your IQ, I suggest you start meditating today! 

Pranayama -Kapalabhati

What is Pranayama?

I had no idea pranayama was a thing until I join Tirisula Yoga Teacher Training Course. Yes, I did it before when I was attending yoga class but none of the instructor mention this breathing activity is called pranayama, and it can actually bring some positive impact to our body.

 

‘Pranayama’ is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates to ‘control of breath’. ‘Prana’ means breath or life force and ‘ayama’ means to control. So, you can think of it as a set of practices to control the ‘prana’ within your body through breathing techniques. Pranayama and having control over breathing brings many physical & mental benefits. Controlled breathing by pranayama techniques lets you hold the horses of your mind, you keep calm, become able to think wisely, and make the correct decisions. It eventually makes you stress-free and happy.


 

Benefit of Pranayama

  • ·     Helps in weight loss
  • ·     Good for skin health
  • ·     Improve digestion
  • ·     Take care of the lung
  • ·     Relieves the symptoms of sinusitis.
  • ·     Improves cardiovascular health
  • ·     Boost Immunity
  • ·     Helps in detoxification
  • ·     Improves concentration
  • ·     Helps to treat sleep disorder
  • ·     Act as a stress reliever
  • ·     Effective for brain disorders
  • ·     Makes mind well oriented
  • ·     Help in chronic diseases
  • ·     Prevent dementia

I would like to share with you the technique for one of my favourite pranayama -Kapalabhati. As part of my morning routine, it helps me to wake my entire body and my brain up, it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes to practice. Kapalabhati (as with most pranayama ) should be practiced on an empty stomach, so allow at least three to four hours after a meal before engaging this pranayama.

 

Start in any comfortable, cross-legged, seated position to get mind ready, you can choose to open or close your eye. Place your hands on the knees with palms open to the sky, or in mudra position. Both inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose, keep your mouth close. Kapalabhati consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly, which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs.

 

Focus on your lower belly. Many people aren’t able to isolate and contract this area. If needed, cup one hand lightly in the other and press them gently against your lower belly. Now quickly contract your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs. Then quickly release the contraction so the belly “rebounds” to suck air into your lungs. Pace yourself slowly at first. Repeat 10 times at about one exhale-inhale cycle every second or two. As you become more adept of the breath, you can increase your pace.

 

Kapalabhati should not be practiced by pregnant or menstruating women. It is also contraindicated for individuals with high or low blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcer, epilepsy, vertigo, migraine headaches, significant nosebleeds, detached retina, glaucoma, history of stroke, and for anyone who has undergone recent abdominal surgery. 

 

1.https://www.pocketcoach.co/blog/8-types-of-pranayama-breathing-and-their-benefits/amp/

2.https://www.fitsri.com/articles/benefits-of-pranayama

3.https://www.artofliving.org/yoga/breathing-techniques/skull-shining-breath-kapal-bhati

4.https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/types/pranayama/skull-shining-breath/

Pranayama for Singapore’s Hot Climate

What is Pranayama?

If you are new to pranayama, you may have the misconception that I once had, that pranayama is only about breathing slowly, deeply and calmly. There is so much more to it. I learnt that there are many variations of pranayama with different techniques, counts, breathing ratio, and duration, and each with their own benefits. ‘Prana’ in Sanskrit means the life force energy, and ‘Ayama’ means expansion, together ‘Pranayama’ refers to the moving of energy to the unused or needed areas of the body to unclog, release or replenish, and is practiced through the controlling of the breath. There are some pranayama that keeps you balanced and focused, some to energise the body and mind, and some to calm you down. In particular, I wanted to share on cooling pranayama, which was new to me. I feel that these practices would be beneficial with the constant crazy Singapore heat (also applicable to anywhere else with hot summers or hot climate).

 

Cooling pranayama and its benefits

There are two types of cooling pranayama that I will introduce – Sitali and Sitkari. These pranayama calm the body through an evaporative cooling mechanism on the inhalation, and delivers a cooling energy to the deep tissues of the body. Cooling pranayama has many benefits:

  • Removes excess heat accumulated in the body
  • Calms the nervous system and reduces stress
  • Helps if you have trouble sleeping at night i.e. insomnia
  • Controls high blood pressure
  • Helps with digestion

 

Step-by-step guide to practice:

Sitali Pranayama

  1. Get into a comfortable seated position, with the spine upright and neutral.
  2. Form an ‘O’ shape with your lips. Roll your tongue and extend it out slightly.
  3. Inhale through the tunnel formed by the rolled tongue.
  4. Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath. Let your ribs expand with the inhale.
  5. Withdraw the tongue and close your mouth. Exhale through the nostrils.
  6. Repeat the process for 2-3 minutes, allowing the cool breath to cool your body and mind.

Sitkari Pranayama

  1. Get into a comfortable seated position, with the spine upright and neutral.
  2. Clench the upper and lower teeth together, while separating the lips to form a rectangular shape. Rest the tongue behind the upper teeth.
  3. Inhale through the mouth and teeth, making a hissing sound, “tssss…”.
  4. Close your mouth. Exhale through the nostrils.
  5. Repeat the process for 2-3 minutes, allowing the cool breath to cool your body and mind.

 

Areas of caution for cooling pranayama

Sitali and Sitkari pranayama will reduce body temperature, hence they are best practiced during hot weather. Do try to avoid practicing these pranayama during cold weather, especially if you belong to the vata and kapha dosha. Try to keep the practice in a place where the temperature of the air is stable and calm. This pranayama is also not recommended for people who are suffering from low blood pressure, asthma, cold and cough.

 

The world of pranayama is vast and I hope you would continue to explore it.  The benefits of pranayama would only be felt with proper and consistent practice. Keep practicing!

Pei Qi, YTT 2021

Kriya Yoga and its relation to Kapalabhati

Kriya yoga is an ancient type of meditation technique often referred to as the “Yoga of Action or Awareness”, that when practiced smart, accelerates one’s spiritual progress. The book titled “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda is known as one of the modern founders of Kriya yoga which was later introduced as a practice in the West in the 1920s. The practice of Kriya yoga is taught only through a guru-disciple relationship and after an initiation ceremony, most practitioners of meditation spend time in self-study and practice until they are ready to be further initiated into the advanced practices of Kriya yoga. Beginning meditators are advised to use a mantra or word in order to focus their attention and progress into deeper meditation sessions.

Kapalabhati also known as “the skull shining breath” is a pranayama or breathing technique that purifies the front region of the brain and cleanses the respiratory system and nasal passage. It is an intermediate-to-advanced pranayama that consists of short, powerful exhales and passive inhales. This exercise is a traditional internal purification practice, or kriya, that tones and cleanses the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins and waste matter. It acts as a tonic for the system, refreshing and rejuvenating the body and mind.

Kapalabhati is invigorating and warming and it helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system, which can help to prevent illness and allergies so regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus.

However, it is important to avoid Kapalabhati if you are currently having high blood pressure, heart disease, or hernia. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this exercise, as well. But as with all breathing exercises, it is important to always approach the practice with caution, especially if you have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema so never attempt any pranayama for the first time without the guidance of a qualified and knowledgeable teacher and always work within your own range of limits and abilities.

When practiced correctly, Kapalabhati Pranayama will cleanse, energize, and invigorate your mind, body, and spirit. This pranayama requires knowledge of and experience with basic breathing exercises. So if you are new to pranayama, allow yourself time to get acquainted with and proficient at Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) and Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before introducing Kapalabhati into your practice.