Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama is one of the pranayamas that I have adopted in my daily routine since the start of YTT. Its the first thing I do when I get out of bed. In my experience, I feel that it has helped me greatly in digestion and ability to expel negative thoughts in my head, thus, making me largely more productive daily. 

Kapala means “skull” and bhati means “shining”. Kapalabathi is known as a method to cleanse the overall body system so much that when practised regularly, the face will shine radiantly with good health, hence, its terms Shining Skull. This pranayama involves passive inhalation and active forceful exhalations through the nose, using abdominal muscles.

 

How to practise Kapalabathi:

  1. Come to comfortable seated position such as Padmasana (lotus) or Sukhasana.
  2. Place your hands on your knees with palms facing the sky.
  3. Take a few deep breaths to prepare for Kapalabathi.
  4. At the end of the last inhalation, contract the abdominal muscles quickly. This will forcefully push air out of the lungs, making it an active forceful exhalation.
  5. Relax the abdominal muscle, and this will naturally result in passive inhalation.
  6. Repeat this by contracting and “pumping” your abdominal muscles quickly. Passive inhalation will follow. This is considered one pump.
  7. After 20-30 pumps, end on the exhalation. This is considered one round.
  8. Take a few deep breaths after 1 round. Repeat this for 2 more rounds.

 

Physical Benefits:

  • Aids digestion
  • Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs 
  • Strengthen abdominal muscles
  • Stimulates blood circulation

 

Mental Benefits:

  • Balances oxytocin
  • Improves concentration and memory

 

Spiritual Benefits:

  • Removing any blocks in nadis
  • Activates chakras in your body
  • Regulates the flow of prana 

 

Important things to take note of:

  • It is best to practise this with no food intake.
  • Women who are pregnant or on moon cycle should NOT practise this.
  • People with major illnesses such as cancer or high blood pressure should also NOT practise this.

Breathe yogis…there is so much more you can breathe!

Why is breathing so important for the body? Life begins and ends with breathing. About 5 minutes without breathing and we are dead. All cells in the body need oxygen to live. Oxygen is necessary for the cell’s energy supply, to ensure its metabolism. Low levels of oxygen will have a direct impact on the functioning of the cell. Breathing is also vital to remove waste products during exhalation, such as CO2 from cellular respiration.

Breathing impacts all the major body’s systems:

  • cardiovascular system: slow, deep breaths will cause the heart rate to slow; inhalation is linked to vasoconstriction and exhalation to vasodilation; blood homeostasis (pH / pO2 and pCO2 to avoid acidosis)
  • nervous system: breathing volumes and rate will either activate or relax the body; the brain consumes a lot of oxygen (20%) and optimal breathing will support intellectual activities and concentration
  • endocrine system: the variation in blood parameters (pO2, pCO2, pH) modulated by breathing will regulate the hormonal activity aimed at restoring homeostasis. For example, a deep inhale and a full exhalation will decrease the production of noradrenaline and if this is done over a few hours, the cortisol level will also decrease.
  • muscular system: as mentioned above breathing is fundamental for metabolism and energy supply (aerobic). A well oxygenated muscle will increase its power and tone. A good exhalation will eliminate the CO2 produced by muscle activity.
  • digestive system: the mechanical movement of the diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation massages digestive organs and stimulates peristalsis so that digestion and transit are improved.
  • immune system: Shortness of breath increases, over time, the level of cortisol which kills lymphocytes (key cells of our immune system).

Breathing is an “automatic” function governed by the autonomic nervous system, but consciously, we can control our breath e.g. modify the amplitude, the frequency, choose to breathe through the nose or the mouth.

When we discussed about the respiratory system during the Yoga Teacher Training and I went on checking the various pulmonary volumes, I was quite amazed at what I discovered. Our lungs have a volume of around 5 L. But the “automatic” breathing, also called “tidal volume”, is only of 0.5 L, so only 10% of our lung capacity! By consciously inhaling fully we can add another 1.5 to 2.5 L (also called “inspiratory reserve volume”) so increasing the air coming in (and out) fourfold to 2L! And by consciously exhaling fully and then inhaling fully we can add an extra 1.2 to 1.5 L (also called “expiratory reserve volume”), so overall increasing the air coming in (and out) sevenfold to 3.5L! And now we use 70-75% of our lung capacity…so much more powerful! So much more oxygen we can provide to our cells, so much more toxins we can get rid of.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have optimal breathing, leading to both physical and psychological consequences. People are now advised to “learn to breathe” and many techniques have emerged for various indications such as stress management, depression, ENT ailments, nasal structure defects, snoring, concentration…Yoga, and Pranayama specifically, have a great role to play there.

Practicing pranayama is a great way to learn to control our breath and leverage its impressive power. Research shows that regular practice of pranayama significantly improves  numerous pulmonary parameters: it increases vital lung capacity, tidal volume, expiratory reserve volume, breath holding time, diffusion capacity, resting respiratory rate…And those indicators are important for both prevention and treatment of all respiratory dysfunctions and illnesses.

So, yogis, don’t forget to practice your pranayama and…breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out….

Running with Mindfulness

A short reflection on running and mindfulness today.

 

My first love is and always has been running – I’ve run consistently since I was a teenager and it’s been a kind of up-and-down relationship. Running when I’m angry, running on good days and holidays. I found my way to the yoga mat in a period when I “broke up” with running for a bit, frustrated with a hairline foot fracture. I feel like this is the beginning of a story we’ve heard many times: person has an injury, yoga saves their life. That is difference from my experience; I keep looking for ways to create balance between yoga and running. These nine-plus weeks in yoga teacher training (YTT) has given me a lot of time to reflect on my relationship with running and how my practice can complement it. In the last weeks, we’ve moved through many asana and the phrase that I keep coming back to, is “sthira sukham asanam” – that asana should be steady, stable and motionless, bringing comfort to the mind without swings or pain, pleasure or suffering. Is it possible to apply this to the act of running? To simply, naturally, be in the motion with no discomfort?

 

On the last few runs, I tried to bring my focusing to my breath and being present (and also not crashing into cyclists or lamposts!). It’s quite different from switching off from being numb or bored after long distances. It’s almost liberating, to find seconds and minutes of centred-ness in motion. Like mindfulness practice, I count the inhalations and exhalations while running, working to get my strides aligned with my breath. Cycles of 20. I’m currently working my way through a book “Still Running” by Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, a mindfulness practitioner and ultra-runner. Her book is helpful and enriching in many ways, but this section was particularly memorable. In “Abdominal Breathing” she writes: 

 

“Begin by establishing a running pace that you can maintain for the duration of your run… Using the hara as ground or ‘seat’ of your awareness, focus all your attention on your breath as you run. Notice how your abdomen naturally expands as your inhale, then contracts as you exhale. Breathe easily and evenly, placing slightly more attention on the exhale as you let your body inhale by itself…. Anchor your mind in it. Let every cell in your body, every thought in your mind, be nothing but breath.When you become distracted, see the thought, set it aside and come back. Keep running until you feel you are well grounded in the breath.”

 

Here I’m thinking – that’s it! Mindfulness as applied to running. Metre to kilometre, seeing the thought and setting it aside. Focus on the breath. I’m going to do this with my runs and see where this takes me, internally.

Falling asleep with pranayama

Have you ever wished you could fall asleep as soon as your head touches your pillow? I have… I often find myself lying in bed unable to drift off to slumber even though I feel sleepy. Perhaps I have kept my mind too active, too close to bedtime.

Wanting to get longer hours of quality rest, I decided to try incorporating pranayama in my bedtime routine. I have heard of pranayama prior to yoga teacher training but I was not aware that there were SO MANY pranayama techniques! Besides being able to warm your body up and get you energised, there are also “cooling” pranayama that can help you cool down, clear your mind, and maybe even fall asleep more easily. So far, anuloma viloma and murcha have helped to calm my active mind and made me feel more relaxed before I sleep. Researching more on how pranayama affects sleep, I came across many articles recommending bhramari pranayama, which is what I will be trying next!

Sharing here three pranayama techniques that may help you to sleep better 😊

Anuloma Viloma (starting from the left nostril)

  1. Come to a comfortable seated position.
  2. On the right hand, fold the index finger and middle finger to the base on the thumb, forming Vishnu mudra. Left hand can be in Chin mudra resting on left knee.
  3. Using the thumb of the right hand, gently close the right nostril and inhale using the left nostril.
  4. Close the left nostril using the ring finger and slowly open the right nostril to exhale.
  5. Inhale from the right nostril, close it with the thumb, and slowly open the left nostril to exhale. This is 1 round and you can practise this technique for about 10 rounds.
  6. The inhale to exhale ratio should be 1:2 as longer exhalations can calm your body down.

Note: It is important to start the first inhale from the left nostril as it will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (and reduce sympathetic activity), which will induce a calming effect on your body. Starting from the right will activate the sympathetic nervous system, which will do the opposite – keeping your mind and body alert and active. You may consider doing that at the start of your day instead.

 

Murcha (Swooning Breath)

This is an advanced pranayama. However, there are variations such that even beginners can practise it and reap the benefits. Sharing here a basic variation:

  1. In a comfortable seated position, place palms gently on knees. Take a few deep breaths to prepare.
  2. When ready, take a slow inhale and tilt your head back and press palms on the knees to straighten the elbows. Keep your shoulders away from the ears. You can incorporate Ujjayi Pranayama here too.
  3. When you reach the top of your breath, tilt your chin down (Jalandhar Bhanda, chin lock) and hold your breath here (antar khumbaka) for as long as you can do so comfortably.
  4. When you can no longer hold your breath, gently bring your head back to neutral position and slowly exhale through your nostrils.
  5. Resume normal breathing and observe the effects of holding the breath before repeating.
  6. You can do this for 3-5 rounds.
  7. For more advanced options, you can incorporate Kechari Mudra (rolling tongue back) and Shambhavi Mudra (roll eyeballs towards the centre of the eyebrows, or the third eye chakra).

Note: The literal meaning of ‘murcha’ is fainting, hence you may feel some dizziness and swaying in this pranayama due to the prolonged holding of breath. The swooning effect also comes from engaging the Jalandhar Bhanda which compresses the carotid sinuses. Breath retention may induce a state of void in your mind, removing distractions.

Caution! Those with high/low blood pressure, mental disorders, brain and heart conditions should not practise this pranayama.

 

Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. In a comfortable seating position, use your thumbs to gently press down on the cartilage between your cheeks and ears.
  2. Index and middle fingers gently cover your eyes, while ring fingers are at the side of the nostrils and little fingers at the corners of your mouth.
  3. Inhale softly and deeply, and as you exhale, make a humming sound from the back of your throat. Feel the vibrations through your head and face.
  4. You can do this for up to 5 minutes.

Note: The humming sound and vibrations produces a meditative effect. You can think of it as drowning out the constant “chatter” of your overactive mind. This pranayama also has effects of reducing anxiety and relaxing the face so you can practise this any time you feel stressed or anxious too.

Walking Meditation with Pranayama

Following our theory session on Pranayama in the third weekend of our training course, I thought I could experiment with incorporating in my morning walks the key Pranayama techniques that Master Paalu had taught us. These were:

  • Gentle, regulated and extended breath
  • Using the standard ratio of 1:2 (inhalation:exhalation)

I started with the most basic ratio of 4 counts of inhalation to 8 counts of exhalation. Even then, it was not as easy as I had thought! I had to slow down my steps, and concentrate hard on coordinating each footstep with a breath count to achieve the desired regulated state. I must have looked pretty strange to passers-by in the first few days of my experiment. 

As the days passed, I grew more comfortable with the experience, and was able to lengthen the breath counts slightly, even fitting in breath retention in between. Personally, I still find the mindful walking practice described in my earlier blog which involves focusing on the surroundings more enjoyable. However, I do find this practice of “walking Pranayama” a lot more effective in helping to sharpen mental concentration.

Curious to find out if “walking Pranayama” is just my own somewhat unorthodox approach, I decided to do some research on this topic. I found out that walking meditation is indeed practised in several branches of the Buddhist tradition, typically in between periods of sitting meditation. 

When it comes to the Yoga tradition, Pranayama is certainly predominantly a seated practice. Nonetheless, there does exist a practice named Bhramana Pranayama (“going round” Pranayama) which is the practice of controlled breathing performed while walking. 

Some of the benefits of Bhramana Pranayama include improving stamina and endurance through fine-tuning the heart and lung, and releasing negative thought and energy. 

This practice could be a less intimidating entry-point for beginners to the Pranayama practice, or perhaps a nice occasional alternative to a seated Pranayama practice for more active people who find it challenging to stay focused while staying still. 

I can’t wait for the day when I can practise this without having to wear a face mask!

 

Pranayama – rediscover your best friend

 

Our journey on this earth will start and end with a single breath. Yet most of us have forgotten that breathing is so essential to our life. In our day to day life we are oblivious to it. And in truth we are really bad at it, well at least I know I was. I really wish I’d been taught how to breathe better at school or as part of physical education. It is a skill we would really benefit from an early age and for the long term…

 

The great gift of the breath is that it is also a volontary action, so we can take control and train our breath, with care.

 

First by just paying attention, how is our breathing pattern in this instant? Is my breathing long, deep, shallow, fast? Do I have a dominant nostril? Is the breathing pattern flowing smoothly or restrained in some areas? Gaining awareness of our breath is already a major first step.

 

Then by acting on the breath through Pranayama. What would be the most beneficial practice in this instant?, would it be to try to calm your mental state?, to energise you?, to balance your left and right channels?, to deepen your breath, making the inhale and/or exhale longer?

 

There are many different techniques depending on the benefit one is looking for. It doesn’t necessarily take long 10′ can be sufficient, although 20-40′ are recommended. Befriend your breath again and the changes will happen through a steady and regular practice. Remember there is no rush as this is one a few activity we’ll be able to practice till the end of our life 😉

Breathe!

After a few days on the mat, things are supposed to get better, but is it really the case?
The body is feeling sore, and during Asanas each diificulty gives the mind an opportunity to jump in and challenge the situation.
‘I can’t do this’…,
– just breathe and move with the flow without thinking about what comes next.
‘What am I doing here?’…,
-just breathing, nothing else to think or do.
‘I feel so tired’… ,
– but I can still breathe!, this is what matters for now and it is just enough to make it to the next move.
‘Maybe I’ll injure myself if I go so deep in this pose’…,
– just breathe, stay centered, steady, focus on your bandhas, feel lighter, trust the teachers, the process and yourself…
‘How many more Vinyasa ane Chaturanga can I endure?’… – who cares, just this one matters, breathe, feel your body pulsating, feel just how good this inhalation is.
Don’t pay attention to whatever comes through the mind, just focus, just breathe, discover the joy of this single, simple breath and ride on it like on a wave, and the next one…, and the following one…

Lesson plan

This is a lesson plan for advanced beginners or intermediate practitioners. Focus is on synchronising the breath with each movement, and each asana builds up to the next flow.
Introduction
1. Greet class; introduce myself
2. Check medical history or first timers
3. Introduce Ujjayi breath and how it should be used throughout the class
Warm up
4. Calm breath and centre mind (1 minute)
5. Cat and cow poses (8 breaths)
6. Move into downward dog (5 breaths)
7. Uttanasana (raise heads halfway for 5 breaths)
Standing
8. Suria Namaskara A (2 rounds)
9. Go into a flow series where one asana is added each round. A vinyasa is done with each flow.
Flow 1: Utkatasana – Virabhadrasana II
Flow 2: Utkatasana – Virabhadrasana II – Reverse warrior
Flow 3: Utkatasana – Virabhadrasana II – Reverse warrior – Utthita Parsvakonasana
10. Tadasana (mountain pose for 5 breaths)
11. Vrikshasana (tree pose; one on each side)
Seated
12. Preparatory pose: Half bow (one on each side)
13. Preparatory pose: Locust
14. Full pose: Dhanurasana (wheel)
15. Rest in Child’s pose
16. Get up slowly into a Rabbit pose
17. Janu sirsasana (one on each leg)
18. Paschimottanasana (2 times, hold for 3 breaths each)
19. Urdhva Dhanurasana (2 times for 5 breaths each; bridge as variation)
20. Release into supine twist as a counter pose
21. Happy baby pose
22. Savasana (5 mins)
May the breath be with you.

Jala neti and Yoga

Kriya (in Sanskrit “action, deed, effort”) most commonly refers to a “completed action”, technique or practice within a yoga discipline meant to achieve a specific result. Types of kriya may vary widely between different schools of yoga. Another meaning of Kriya is the outward physical manifestations of awakened kundalini. Kriyas can also be the spontaneous movements resulting from the awakening of Kundalini energy.

 The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the six kriya cleansing techniques. These techniques should only be practiced under proper guidance especially for first timer:

In this article, Jala neti will be discussed in detail including the benefits and methods.Jala neti importance in yoga dates back to thousands of year.In order to benefit from yoga, it is imperative to breathe fully and deeply through the nose and this is especially needed in Pranayama. Pranayama is all about regulating and controlling the breath and sustaining the life force in us. It is responsible to bring about tremendous changes in our body and mind. Therefore, jala neti is important to ensure that our breath flow can be regulated. Through this cleansing, the pituitary gland will be stimulated which awakens the energy center behind the forehead called the Ajna Chakra.This Chakra must be sufficiently stimulated for higher states of meditation.In addition, Jala  neti also helps in relaxation with unobstructed and freely flowing breath.This helps to ensure an abundant supply of oxygen at the right temperature to stimulate relaxation.All these benefits sum up the importance of Jala neti in Yoga practice.
 Jala neti

For this technique, lukewarm isotonic salt water is poured into one nostril, so that it leaves through the other. The procedure is then repeated on the other side, and the nose is dried by bending forward and by rapid breathing.[2]It is also possible to sniff the water in so that it runs into the mouth, and to spit it out. In a more advanced reverse variant, the water is taken in through the mouth and snorted out of the nose.[2]

 
Benefits

  • Clears the nasal cavities and passageways
  • Regulate nose breathing
  • Flushes the tear ducts
  • Rejuvenate your sense of smell and taste
  • Stimulates the Ajna chakra
  • Stimulate relaxation nd beneficial in meditation
  • Moisten the dry nasal cavities and passageways
  • Reduce diseases like asthma and bronchitis and chronicsinusitis

Method: 
Tools:

  • Neti pot
  • Pure water

Venues:

  • over a sink,
  • a bowl on a table,
  • in the shower or
  • outside

Steps:

    1. First fill the Neti Potwith warm water of a temperature suitable for pouring in the nose. Neither too hot or cold.
    2. Pure water is best if available. Mix in salt to the proportion of one teaspoon for half a litre of water. This equates to 0.9% and is called isotonic solution – the same as human blood. Sea salt is best if available.
    3. Mix well so that the salt is diluted completely. You will find all this out with growing experience, it differs from person to person. Some like a higher saline solution, some even do it without salt. The tissue of the nose is very sensitive and reacts immediately if something is not right.
    4. Place the nose cone into the right nostril, sealing it inside the nostril with a few twists and slight pressure. Try to point the spout straight up in line with the nasal passage so as not to block off the tip of the nozzle on the inside of the nose.
    5. Open your mouth and breathe gently through the mouth. .
    6. Now slowly bend forward from the waist so that the tip of the nose is the lowest point of the head; and then tilt/roll the head to the right, so that the left nostril is now the lowest point of the nose. Tilt slowly so that water doesn’t run out the top of the pot onto your face.
    7. Keep the nose cone fully sealed into the right nostril so that it doesn’t leak. Keep on mouth breathing whiles the water comes through. Just wait a few seconds and the water should run out the left nostril.
    8. keep breathing slowly and gently through the mouth. After the water begins to run, wait about 30 seconds for about half a pot to flow right to left, and then remove the pot and stand up.
    9. Before changing sides, blow out gently through both nostrils to clear water and mucus from the nose.
    10. Repeat the steps as above, but with the nose cone entering the left nostril and the flow of water going left to right.
    11.  After the pot runs dry, stand up, blow out gently through both nostrils and then prepare to dry out the nose.
    12. Repeat the whole process if there is still a mucus blockage. However, it is recommended to see a doctor after a few trial as there might besome structural blockage in the nose.
    13. If further guidance is needed, do ask any yoga practitioner for help.

Finale stage:

  1. Nose drying is very important and always remember to do this.
  2. Bend forwards from the waist and hang head upside down with the nose pointing towards the floor. Point the nose towards the knees and let any residual water drain from the nose. Gently breath in the mouth and out for 10 breaths.
  3. Then stand up and do some fast breathing through the nostril for 10 breaths, sniffing in and out moderately. Close of the right nostril with one finger and do 10 fast sniffing through the left nostril only. Repeat this on the other side of the nostril.
  4. Lastly, do 10 fast sniffing breath through both nostrils together.
  5. If you feel there are still some residual water, repeat the whole drying process.
  6. Drying nose is very important so as to prevent manifestation of cold and also infection in the sinus passages/ eustachian tubes.

Alternative
Dugdha Neti – Neti with Milk

    1. This method is good for those suffering from chronic nose bleeds or are sensitive towards salty water.
    2. It is best done after using salty water

 Differences

    1. The flow of milk do not go from one side to another , it only fills the ingoing nostril and then withdrawn
    2. Once from each side is sufficient.
    3. This practice should be done under proper guidance and not done excessively.