In an earlier blog post, I talked about the various pranayama variables that were given by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Based on these variables, over a period of time, a large number of pranayama practices have evolved.
In this article, I would like to discuss a pranayama technique that involves fast breathing. As you know, practices like kapalabhati and bhastrika also involve fast breathing. However, in those techniques, either inhalation or exhalation or both are forced out in short bursts of breath. In this technique called Rapid Breathing, both inhalation and exhalation are even and unforced. That means both are of the same duration, and there is no force used either during inhalation or exhalation. Also, there is no conscious effort to breathe deep breathes. We allow the breaths to just "happen".
Whereas during our natural breathing cycle, we breathe approximately 15-17 breaths per minute, in the Rapid Breathing practice we try to breathe close to 100 breaths per minute. Of course, as with any other breathing practice, there should be no strain felt while we try to breathe at a faster pace. It is customary to do three rounds – two rounds while breathing only through one nostril at a time and then one round while breathing through both the nostrils.
I am pleased to present a video of the practice. Hope you will enjoy practicing with me.
The Rapid Breathing practice is not something that you will find discussed in any of the standard Hatha Yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. I have not seen it mentioned in any of the more modern texts either. I actually learned it from a yoga teacher who was visiting from India. I attended a week-long pranayama workshop that he offered while I was living in New Jersey. This Rapid Breathing practice was one of the key practices, among some of the other more traditional practices, that we practices in the daily routine. I enjoyed the practice and found it very energizing and beneficial. Since then I have added it to my own personal yoga routine. I have also made it a part of the practices that I teach in my classes.
- Sit in any comfortable sitting posture with the spine erect, eyes closed and shoulders relaxed.
- Make the Vishnu Mudra with the right hand – make a soft fist, lift the thumb and the last two fingers up, keeping the middle two fingers at the base of the thumb. During the practice using this mudra, the thumb is used to close the right nostril whereas the ring finger is used to close the left nostril.
- With the left hand, make the Chin Mudra – join the tips of the index finger and the thumb, keeping the rest of the fingers open and relaxed. Rest the hand on the left knee or thigh, palm facing up.
- Use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Begin to breathe rapid breaths maintaining both inhalation and exhalation with equal and even effort. No force should be applied either during inhalation or exhalation. Try to bring the speed of breathing up to about 90 or 100 breaths per minute. Make sure that the breathing is not strained. If needed, reduce the speed of breathing to maintain a relaxed, uniform breathing pattern.
- You may like to make use of the beats of a metronome to maintain uniformity of the rhythm. There are several metronome apps available for your devices. Pick the one you like. All these apps provide various features. You can experiment with a few different speeds and select the one that feels most comfortable for you.
- Do as many breaths as you comfortably can. Then take a deep breath and release the hand down. Continue with your natural breathing rhythm for a few breaths.
- In the beginning you may not be able to maintain the rapid pace for too long. With practice, over a period of time, try to build up to about a 100 breaths in each cycle.
- Now switch to the other side. Close the left nostril using the ring finger of the right hand. Begin to breathe rapid breaths through the right nostril. Follow the guidelines as give above.
- Finally when you would like to stop, take a deep breath and release the hand down. Continue with your natural breathing rhythm for a few breaths.
- Now continue with the rapid pattern of breathing, this time breathing in and out through both the nostrils. Follow the same guidelines as given above.
- Finally when you are ready, take a deep breath and continue with your regular pattern of breathing.
- The rapid pattern of breathing causes the carbon dioxide levels to drop a little while the oxygen level rises. Thus the blood is able to carry more oxygenated blood to every organ and cell of the body. This provides extra energy and improves functioning of the vital organs.
- A faster gas exchange – oxygen to carbon dioxide, happens at every cell of the body. This helps remove more CO2 and toxins from the system.
- Fast, even and rhythmic breathing has a subtle effect at the deep, subconscious levels – it can actually provide some emotional cleansing.
- Fast movement of the diaphragm helps massage the internal organs – heart, liver, kidneys etc., thus improving their function.
- This practice helps clear the nasal passage, sinuses etc. that can help you breathe better and easier. It can help you with common colds etc.
- In general, this is a pretty safe practice for most situations, including pregnancy.
- You should avoid it in case of severe heart condition or hypertension where the blood pressure fluctuates despite medication.
Please share your own experience with pranayama practices. Also, I certainly hope that you will make Rapid Breathing as a part of your practice