“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath”. – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Pranayamas are breath controlling techniques practiced by yogis. In usual classes we practice two types of pranayama: Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma (alternate nostril breathing, known also as Nadi Shodhana).
Perform exhalation and inhalation rapidly like the bellows (of a blacksmith). This is called kapalbhati and it destroys all mucus disorders.
(“Hatha Yoga Pradipika” 2:35)
Kapalbhati is a cleansing technique that uses sharp exhalations to open the energy channels of the body especially around the upper energy centers. It is one of the six acts of cleansing that are traditionally known as shatkarmas. The word kapalabhati means shiny skull. So it is a pranayama which stimulates the brain and activates the latent psychic centers responsible for subtle perception.
Sitting comfortably (preferably cross-legged) with the spine straight, without extra tensing the muscles of the back, neck relaxed, shoulders rolled back and down, crown of the head pulled up and chin parallel to the floor. Eyes closed and hands on the knees in chin mudra.
Inhale deeply and slowly then exhale taking your time, gently pulling your abdomen in. Repeat few time being fully aware how the abdomen rises with the inhalation and goes in with the exhalation. As the diaphragm goes down pushing the abdomen out the air enters to your lungs and as diaphragm is pulled up and the air is pushed out of the lungs it pulls your abdomen in.
Start exhaling fast sharp exhalations pushing your abdomen in actively. Inhalation is made passively by relaxing the abdominal muscles. It is essential to keep the exhalation active and the inhalation passive. There should be no effort to take the breath in. the breath comes by itself as you relax your abdomen after the exhalation. Do some 50 respiration in the beginning of your practice. After the last exhalation inhale deeply and exhale slowly two or three times. Then take a deep comfortable inhalation and hold the breath peacefully as much as your body allows. Exhale slowly and with control. Repeat three times.
With regular practice you can increase the number of respirations (pumping) to 100 and more and you can hold the breath for a longer period.
It is normal to feel some dizziness if you are a beginner. Your system is not used to such proportions of oxygen and carbon in the blood stream. In such case, stop the practice for a minute, keep sitting still with the eyes closed, then continue the practice with less effort pumping the air out. Do it with less forcefully.
Who should refrain from the practice of Kapalabhati?
Pregnant women should not practice kapalabhati or any yogic posture that includes the contraction of the abdomen. Patients with high blood pressure should avoid it also or do a milder practice with less pumping and less duration of retention.
In Anuloma Viloma, you adopt the Vishnu mudra with your right hand to close your nostrils. Fold the index and middle finger to the palm keeping the ring and little fingers released.
1. Close the right nostril with the thumb, inhale through the left nostril to the count of four.
2. Hold the breath to the count of sixteen, closing both nostrils.
3. Open the right nostril and close the left with the ring and little fingers, exhale through the right nostril to the count of eight.
4. Inhale to the count of four through the right nostril, keeping the left nostril closed with the ring and little fingers.
5. Hold the breath to the count of sixteen closing both nostrils.
6. Exhale to the count of eight through the left nostril, keeping the right closed with the thumb.
This is one round of anuloma viloma. Practice several rounds daily.
“Scientists discovered that the nasal cycle corresponds with brain function. The electrical activity of the brain was found to be greater on the side opposite the less congested nostril. The right side of the brain controls creative activity, while the left side controls logical verbal activity. The research showed that when the left nostril was less obstructed, the right side of the brain was predominant. Test subjects were indeed found to do better on creative tests. Similarly when the right nostril was less obstructed the left side of the brain was predominant. Test subjects did better on verbal skills.”
During anuloma viloma the activity of the right and left cerebral hemispheres is balanced, bringing harmony to the whole body-mind system.