Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bhastrika Breath

So last week we looked at Kapalabhati breath. This week I’d like to take a look at bhastrika as a comparison.

Remember, kapalabhati is a strong exhale with a passive inhale. The hard thing about kapalabati is that inhale. The tendency is to just sort of skip it or not fully utilize the inhale which leaves one rather short of breath at the end of the cycle.

Bhastrika breath is the “bellows breath” - a strong exhale AND a strong inhale. Like a bellows. And, like a bellows, you are fanning your internal flames. Air is pushed in and out of the lungs, generating heat within the body by vigorously working your cardiovascular system.

So why is this breath so great? What’s the big deal? The pumping action of the breath squeezes blood in and out of the digestive organs, tones the liver, spleen, stomach and pancreas, thus increasing digestive capacity. It's working the abdomen and the lungs.

How do we do this? Bring yourself to a comfortable seated position - a simple crossed legged position, kneeling, half lotus or full or even sitting on a chair. In all positions, avoid hunching the shoulders or rounding the back. If you are in a chair, sit on the edge and don’t lean against the back. Hunching and rounding compress the abdomen and inhibits the breathing motion. It is very important to keep the head and truck erect throughout the practice.

Take a long, slow, deep inhale. This ensures there is plenty of oxygen to begin with to counter exhaling more than inhaling. Remember, the exhales and inhales should be equal - attempt to coordinate the movement of the diaphram and abdominal muscles so air moves in and out like a bellows.

Begin slow. One recommendation is one breath every three seconds. There should be minimal movement of the chest and shoulders - only the abdomen. Make the breath smooth, without jerking or stopping. This breath can be quiet, or with sound. It is recommended to start with a rate of 20 breaths per minute up to 3 to 5 minutes. If you feel the need to take a deeper inhale, do so, and begin again.

Some benefits of this practice are: it clears the nasal passages, sinuses and lungs. It massages the abdominal organs. It stimulates the liver, spleen and pancreas, which then activate the intestines and it stimulates the cardiovascular system.

This is just a beginning look at pranayama with kapalabhati and bhastrika. There is more that can be done with these two practices, but it’s important to start at the foundation, the ground floor, before moving on.

I did not find a demonstration video that I liked on Bhastrika, but I did find this: B.K.S Iyengar on pranayama.

Sources: Tempering the Mettle,Michael Grady; Stroking the Fire, Michael Grady; Yoga International Publication. Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar.

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