In an earlier article, I discussed the different pranayama variables that have been given by Patanjali in the Yoga sutras. Based on these guidelines provided by Patanjali, and using different permutations and combinations of these variables, a large number of breathing techniques have evolved over time. One of the main sources of information on various pranayama techniques is the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika", a classic yoga text which was written by Swatma Ram about a thousand or so years ago. This contains a complete section on Pranayama and lists a variety of pranayama techniques.
In the yoga classes that I teach and also in the special 14-day pranayama intensive programs, I cover several different pranayama practices. You may like to visit the pranayama page on my blog to get a list of these techniques, as well as links to detailed descriptions on the blog. However, since one can only allocate a certain limited amount of time on a regular, daily basis, I recommend a basic pranayama routine which should form the core of your practice. The basic routine should be practiced on a daily basis, adding other practices as and when you can allocate extra time for your practice.
I hardly need to re-emphasize that a regular yoga practice must include these components: asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathing), yoga nidra (deep relaxation) and meditation.
In all these pranayama practices, try to sit in a posture where the spine is upright and tall with the arms and shoulders relaxed.
Ujjayi Pranayama (4-5 minutes)
- Inhale the 3-part deep Ujjayi breath through both nostrils
- Hold the breath for a comfortable duration while applying Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock) and Mula Bandha (root lock)
- Release the locks and exhale the 3-part deep breath through the left nostril.
- Repeat steps 1-3 a few more times.
Kapalabhati (4-5 minutes)
- Try to sit in Vajrasana (on your heels), if comfortable, for practicing Kapalabhati. If not, sit in any comfortable cross-legged position.
- Begin the Kapalabhati practice, maintaining a uniform rhythm. Start with a slower rhythm – about 60 breaths per minute. When you become comfortable with the practice and this rhythm you may increase the speed gradually, over a period of time, bringing it up to about 80-100 breaths per minute. I recommend the use of a metronome to help you maintain a uniform rhythm.
- Start out with about 50 breaths in each round.
- Over a period of time, build your capacity to up to about 100 to 120 breaths per round.
- When you finish Kapalabhati, if you are familiar and comfortable, do the full 3-bandha routine -inhale deeply and then exhale all the air from the lungs, apply all the three bandhas (Jalandhara, Uddiyana and Mula bandhas); when you get the urge to inhale, inhale from the right nostril using deep ujjayi breaths and finally exhale from the left nostril, again using deep ujjayi breaths.
- At the end of the round, take a few easy breaths, bringing your breathing back to normal breathing.
- Try to practice a total of three rounds
Bhastrika (bellows breath) (4-5 minutes)
Please visit here for a few different variations of the Bhastrika practice. I am giving below the practice that we do most frequently in the class.
- In this technique, in addition to using forced inhalation and exhalation, we move the arms and shoulders along with the breath.
- Sit in any comfortable, cross-legged meditation posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
- Take one slow, deep inhalation and follow it with a deep, slow exhalation.
- Make a soft fist with the two hands and place the hands slightly in front of the shoulders.
- While inhaling forcefully, force the hands up vertically, opening the palms when the hands are up.
- While exhaling forcefully, force the arms down, making a fist again in front of the shoulders.
- Repeat the above move 20 times. This is one round. I strongly recommend the use of a metronome to maintain a uniform pattern for the movement of the arms and synchronizing the movement with breathing. In the class, we find a speed of 90 beats per minutes quite comfortable for most participants. In this rhythm, with one tick of metronome throw the arms up with the inhalation and with the next tick, force the arms down with the exhalation.
- At the end of the round, relax for about 30-35 seconds.
- If comfortable, you may go for three similar rounds.
Rapid breathing (3-4 minutes)
Breathing approximately 90-100 breaths per minute, first through the right nostril, then the left and finally through both the nostrils. You may use a metronome to maintain a continuous, uniform breathing rhythm. Make sure that the breaths are even through both nostrils, and gentle (not forced).
Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath) (4-5 minutes)
Apply the Shanmukhi Mudra (thumbs covering the ears, index fingers on the eyelids, middle fingers on the nostrils, ring fingers on the upper lip and the little fingers on the lower lip). Take a deep inhalation, and while exhaling make a long and deep sound like a humming bee. Repeat 5-7 rounds.
In this practice, if you are familiar and comfortable, you may try the humming sound both during inhalation and exhalation.
Alternate nostril breathing (Naadi Shuddhi or Anuloma Viloma) (5-6 minutes)
Soft, deep ujjayi breaths; 1:2 ration between inhale/exhale; breath retention and the two bandhas (Jalandhara and Mula bandha), if comfortable, for a few seconds (5 to 7 sec) after each inhalation.
Total time for the above routine: approximately 20-25 minutes.
Detailed instructions on the pranayama practices listed above are available on my blog here.
Please visit this post on my blog for ideas on how to build a home practice, depending upon the amount of time you would like to allocate for your practice.
I would love to get your feedback. As always, I welcome your questions and comments.