Purify your body with Pranayama – Pranayama 101
That was my first reaction when I heard about pranayama for the first time. It has always been difficult for me to remember all those Sanskrit expressions. Not different with this one.
For the longest time I didn´t pay attention to breathing exercises at all. I usually just left them out when I did yoga videos, thinking this would be just something way too hippie for me. It was for the first time in the yoga course I took, we had each morning a meditation and pranayama sequence, that I got interessted in it.
Why did I get interessted?
It really helped to clear my mind. Clearing my mind? I have always thought that quieting my mind was was impossible for me. My brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish, which just seemed uncontrolable.
BUT it can be controlled and that just feels so liberating.
It helps me to control my negative reactions towards my tinnitus and to manage my day better as I stay calmer throughout the whole day. If I am calm, I don´t get bothered as much by that annoying ear ringing.
„Some offer their out-flowing breath into the breath that flows in; and the inflowing breath into the breath that flows out; they aim at pranayama, breath haromony, and the flow of their breath is in peace.“ The Bhagavad Gita
So I started to dive into the subject a little more. I wanted to understand it and apply it correctly to get the most benefits out of it. Just like in the course, I wanted my morning to start good and with a clear mind.
Pranayama – what is that?
Pranayama holds the words: Prana and Ayama.
Ayama stands for:
And Prana is the vital life energy in our body. It is the self-energizing force that embraces us.
So putting those two together it means that we extend, expand and control this self-energizing force in our body. It is one of the five principles of yoga and is used to promote proper breathing, to supply the blood as well as the brain with more oxygen. It isalso a way to control the vital life energy. Proper breathing techniques can clean and purify the energetic body.
Breathing exercises obviously focus on inhalation, puraka in sanskrit, and on the exhalation, rechaka in sanskrit.
Puraka means filling, completing, fullfilling and satisfying, while Rechaka means empting. Inhalation is the stimulating and energizing part of the breath, it stands for warming, opening, expanding and spaciousness. It is controlled by prana, the upward flowing energy. Rechaka is the cooling, grounding and soothing part of the breath, it stands for cooling, grounding and centeredness. It is controlled by apana, the downward flowing energy.
Pranayama is used to understand and control the pranic process in the body. Breathing is a direct way of absorbing prana and kind of breath we choose sets off different pranic vibrations, which influence our whole existence. Becoming aware of the essence of the breath and restraining it helps to gain control over the whole system. Retaining the breath stops nerve impulses in different parts of the body and the brain wave pattern has the oporturnity to harmonize itself. The longer the breath is held, the greater is the gap between those nerve impulses and their responses in the brain. That is why in pranayama the goal is to increase the duration of the breath retention. If the breath is held for a period of time, the feeling of being unsettled can be reduced.
„When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still.“ Hatha Yoga Pradipika
There are different ways to practice the control of breath – pranayama.
I for one love the the four purifications, which we practiced during the yoga course I went to. They are supposed to clean the nadis.
What are Nadis?
The Nadis are subtle nerve channels in the astral body through which the prana flows. Pranayama exercises and also asanas exercises purify the Nadis so that the life energy can flow freely again. Some yogic philosophies believe that there are more than 2000 Nadis in the body. According to their believes the Sushumna is the most important one, it has the same function as the Spinal Cord. On either side of it are two other Nadis, the Ida and the Pingala. They correspond to the sympathetic gangila of the Spinal Cord in the cross-section of the spinal vertebra.
„Having established a firm, steady posture, on then regulates the life-force (prana) by natural voluntary suspension of the breath inhalation and exhalation – this is pranayama.” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The four purifications
Those are of course four different breathing exercises that are supposed to increase the prana flow in your body and are suposed to calm and focus your mind.
In my course we always started with Nadi Shodhana – the Alternate Nostril Breathing. As the name suggests, this breathing exercise is about breathing in and breathing through one or the other nostril by blocking either one or the other. It harmonizes the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in a balanced physical, mental and emotional well-being. This pranayana exercise has many benefits, it has a claming effect, balances the body and mind, increases oxygen in the blood and cleanses the major energy channels.
How to practice Nadi Shodhana?
Place the index finger and the middle finger on the bridge of your nose and massage the third eye area a little bit. Close your eyes and let´s get started.
Place your thumb gently on your right nostril. Place your ring and little fingers gently on your left nostril. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale deeply. Then close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers and release the thumb . Exhale through your right nostril. Then inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril and release the ring and little finger. Exhale through your left nostril.
That is one set, I usually do it for about 5 minutes, but start with a few rounds and then work it up to more and more rounds.
That was the first purification.
The next purification is the Skull Shinning Beath, more famously known as Fire Breath or in Sanskrit as Kapala Bhati. It cleanses the energy channels in the head, calms the mind, provides the body with an increased level of oxygen. It als increases the ability to focus and decreases unwanted thoughts. Additionally it detoxifies the lungs, mucous linings, blood vessels, and other cells. Expanding the lung´s capacity is another benefit as well as increasing the overall vital strength. It furthermore strengthens the nervous system to resist stress better.
For this pranayama exercise place your hands on your stomach. To start complete two normal breath cyces, this is something I like to do before getting started to get ready for the exercise. Then inhale deeply and exhale rapidly with force through your nose. The Breath of Fire focuses on the exhale, so let the inhale come naturally to you, but keep exhaling fiercely and rapidly. To finish this set, take a long inhale and lower your chin towards your chest and hold your breath. Hold it until you feel like you need to exhale. Now you have completed one round of the breath of fire.
It is recommended to do at least two rounds of 20 breaths and then to work up to four rounds.
With this breathing practice the second purification is completed.
The Fire Wash
The Agnisara Dhauti, which is the Sanskrit name for the fire wash focuses on the lower body. It prufies the entire abdominal region, it stimulates the digestive system, improves the nutrient absorption and is profoundly helpful in relieving constipation, It aslo supplies the cells with oxygen and eleminates carbon dioxide and other gasouse waste from the digestive organs. Moreover it also tones the stomach and creates heat. Due to the detoxification of the nerves and the abdominal and pelivc regions you can reach mental clarity.
How does the fire wash work?
You start in a cross-legged position and lean your upper body forward. Place your hands on your thighs, make sure that your thumb and index finger point toward you. To get started I usually take two profound breathing cycles, finishing with a deep exhalation so that the stomach is empty. Throughout this whole exercise hold the breath out and pump the belly in and out. Start out with about 8 times pumping your belly in and out and work up to 20 times. Try to get to 4 rounds while holding your breath for the length of each round.
And now we are getting to the last purification:
The Horse Mudra
Ashvini Mudra is it´s Sanskrit name, Ashwa means horse and Mudra means gesture or sign. This breathing exercise stimultes the abdomen, the pelvis and also the reproductive as well as the digestive area. It helps to fight constipation and diseases of the rectum as well as hemorrhoids. It can also improve sexual health. Performing this pranayama stimulates the prana to flow toward to the upper part of the body, slows down the aging process and is good for the general health. This exercise makes your mind more peaceful, gives you more energy and can even improve your mood. If you practice it reagularily, it also improves your immune system.
How does the horse mudra work?
Sit down in a cross-legged position and complete two breath cycles, then inhale deeply and hold your breath. Then start contracting the anal sphincter in a rhythmic way in order to direct your prana upward along the spine through the body’s main energy channel. The first time I was told to do so, I was like…..what is that supposed to mean? So what it means, is to contract your genital muscles and the anal muscle too. It is like you would be making bubbles with your genitals and with your anus. Then imagine the bubbles going all the way up the spine into your head. This is what this expercise basically is. You can start with like 5 or 6 repetions and work your way up to 15 repitions.
Now you have completed the four purifications.
This will make you feel really great, important is if you want to get all those benefits listed here then you need to practice the four purfications on a regular basis. Regular meaning as often as possible, ideally daily. I was told that you can see results after 3 to 6 months if practiced regularily. So as always, Patience is a virtue. But every change and healing takes time and work . . . so do yourself the favor.
When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. ~Author Unknown