10 Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) to Restore Mind-Body Balance

The body has two opposing nervous systems that act to either speed up or slow down various functions of the body. How you breathe determines which nervous system is activated.

Startled by a bear, you would likely take a mouth wide open, gasping breath. When under stress, we cry, scream, yell or gasp, and run to save our life. This gasping rush of air through the mouth fills the upper lobes of the lungs where there is a predominance of fight-or-flight emergency stress receptors that activate the sympathetic nervous system.

Think of a baby nursing. Their mouths are closed and they gently breathe through their nose. Nose breathing drives inspired air through the turbinates in the nose that drive the air deeper and more slowly into the lower lobes of the lungs, where there is a predominance of calming and restorative parasympathetic receptors.

Nose breathing calms you down and mouth breathing stimulates you. This ancient wisdom was found to be true in a study we published on nose versus mouth breathing in The International Journal of Neuroscience. (1)

In our study, nose breathing during exercise was found to boost brain wave coherence, meditative brain alpha waves, slower breath and heart rates, lower blood pressure, decreased sympathetic tone, increased parasympathetic tone, better endurance, and significantly less discomfort during exercise. (1,2)

Yoga and Ayurveda have used breathing techniques (pranayama) for thousands of years to maintain, restore and balance mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Transcending the neurological benefits of breathing mentioned above, pranayama techniques were geared more towards moving the body’s subtle energy.

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The Koshas – The 5 Layers of the Supreme Self

The body’s subtle energy is divided up into sheaths called koshas.

The bliss sheath or Anandamaya kosha is the most central and represents the bliss or joy inside all of us.

The Vijnanamaya kosha, also known as the wisdom sheath, supports discernment to help us filter out the good and bad energy, mindsets and emotions.

This next sheath, as we move outward and less subtle, is the mental sheath or the Manomaya kosha. Here, the mind controls our thoughts and emotions.

This sheath is followed by the Pranamaya kosha or the breath sheath, which regulates breathing patterns and is in charge of moving prana or the body’s life force.

Next, and the least subtle of the body sheaths, is the Annamaya kosha which governs all of the bodily functions.

Notice that the breathing sheath (Pranamaya kosha) is between the mental sheath (Manomaya kosha) and the body sheath (Annamaya kosha). The breath, as described in my study mentioned above, controls the state of mind—as seen with the production of alpha waves during nose breathing and dramatic changes in bodily functions like heart rate and blood pressure. (1,3)

From the Yogic and Ayurvedic perspective, when we breathe, the prana (life force carried through the breath) moves both into the body sheath and the mind sheath, as the prana breath sheath sits between the two. Breathing is, therefore, the mind-body connector on a gross level, but it also functions at a more subtle level.

The movement of the prana activates an energy system in the body called the nadis, which are perhaps most akin to the energy meridians of acupuncture. While science recognizes the existence of meridians and subtle energy, it has yet to be able to measure them.

According to Ayurveda, if we do not move the prana, we will not activate the nadi system. It is the subtle activation of the nadi system that will restore health and balance of the body in the body sheath, and free the mind of limiting and negative thoughts and behavioral patterns in the mental sheath. (4)

Activating the Nadi System

One of the main ways to help direct the prana (breath) through the density of the body and activate the nadi system is through individually prescribed yoga postures coordinated with deep and slow nasal breathing.

Specific breathing practices are said to bring a heightened level of mental awareness to the mind in order to elicit mental, emotional and spiritual change or transformation.

By specifically moving the breath, the physical body restores balance, and the mind becomes less cluttered and more aware, allowing the bliss in the Anandamaya kosha to permeate all the outer koshas.

The following ten breathing (pranayama) techniques are designed to specifically move the breath, either to balance aspects of the body or deliver heightened awareness to the mind.

The goal is to release the conscious awareness (love and truth) into every kosha or aspect of the body, from the most subtle to the most gross.

10 Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) to Restore Mind-Body Balance

Read through these pranayama exercises and practice the ones that most suit your needs and are the most comfortable to practice.

These can be done any time of the day best for you, but were traditionally practiced in the morning and early evening before meditation or yoga.

Always start slowly, and build up intensity and time only if the practice is comfortable.

  1. NADI SHODANA

Directions: Inhale right nostril, exhale left nostril, inhale left nostril, exhale right nostril. Continue to alternate nostril breathing ten breaths, up to ten minutes.

Benefits: Coordinates brain hemispheres and wave coherence. Heightens awareness of the mind.

  1. SHEETALI

Directions: The cooling breath. Fold tongue lengthwise and inhale deeply through the folded tongue. Exhale through the nose or using ujjayi. Ten breaths minimum, ten minutes maximum.

Benefits: Reduces pitta or heat from the head, neck and upper digestion.

  1. SHEETKARI

Directions: The hissing breath. Same basic effect as sheetali. Clench teeth, expose teeth and take a deep hissing inhale through the teeth. Exhale as in sheetali.

Benefits: Reduces pitta, purifies the senses and cools the head.

  1. BRAHMARI

Directions: The humming breath. Inhale with ujjayi (see below) and during the exhale hum like a bee. The hum should create a resonating vibration in the head and heart. Take ten deep breaths in this way. Take another ten deep Brahmari breaths and plug both ears only during the exhale. This will notably enhance the resonance effect and benefits.

Benefits: Balances vata as well as increases subtle mental and emotional awareness.

  1. BHASTRIKA

Directions: The bellows breath. This exercise should be supervised. Close the right nostril. Take twenty fast bellows-like breaths through the left nostril. Close left nostril. Take twenty more bellows breaths through the right nostril. Then take twenty bellows breaths through both nostrils.

Benefits: Drives prana both into the body and mind to clear out physical, mental and emotional blocks.

  1. KALABHATI

Directions: The frontal brain bellows. Similar to Bhastrika only the inhale is quicker and less emphasized. The exhale is longer, more forceful, faster and deeper. Perform as with Bhastrika.

Benefits: Increases digestive fire and raises spiritual energy.

  1. SURYA BHEDNA

Directions: The solar breath. Inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Perform for ten breaths minimum up to ten minutes maximum.

Benefits: Heating and warming breath to balance vata.

  1. CHANDRA BHEDNA

Directions: The lunar breath. Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right. Perform for ten breaths minimum up to ten minutes maximum.

Benefits: Cooling breath to reduce pitta.

  1. UJJAYI

Directions: The Darth Vader breath. Inhale and exhale through the nose making a slight snoring sound with a light constricting of the upper throat and soft palate. Perform for ten breaths for a maximum of ten minutes.

Benefits: A subtle breath to gently move prana and activate the nadi system.

  1. ACTIVE NOSE BREATHING

Directions: Take long slow deep breaths in and out through the nose as you walk. Try to lengthen the inhale and exhale as you walk. Count the steps you take for each full inhale and exhale. Aim to take ten steps or more for each inhale and ten steps for each exhale. Try to keep the inhale the same length as the exhale.

Benefits: This breath teaches you how to take the calming effect of nose breathing into your active life. (2)

10+ Effective Yoga Asana & Pranayama Exercises to Stop Hair Loss

 

10+ Effective Yoga Asana & Pranayama Exercises to Stop Hair Loss

Everyone – men and women both want to have shiny and silky hair, as well as strength, is also necessary. But most of them are having dull hair and so many hair problems. Most of the hair problems are caused due to busy and stressful lifestyle. In between busy schedule and workload, you might not be able to take proper care of your hair. And even you find time to nourish and care for your hair, shampoo, conditioner and many more chemical based hair products are going to be a reason for lifeless hair.

Yoga Asana & Pranayama Exercises
Yoga Asana & Pranayama Exercises

 

For naturally shiny and smooth hair, one needs to practice natural therapy. One of the practical and widely used treatment is Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises. Worldwide people go on practicing Yogasana for better health and maintain the healthier lifestyle. Not many people are aware of getting effects on hair as well as prevention of hair loss with the help of Yoga Asana.

 

 

Yoga Asana & Pranayama Exercises to Stop Hair Loss

Mainly, all the conditions related to your body are caused because of the stressful life. That being reason, people suffer from Heart Disease, Blood Pressure Problems, Skin Problems, and Hair Fall is also one of these things. Other than such stress, unhealthy lifestyle including Smoking, Drinking, Improper Diet, Hormonal Imbalance, Overexposure to Sun  – UV Rays, Excess Usage of Chemical Based products, etc. are also responsible factors.

To stop hair loss, the vast range of beauty products as well as hair care products are available in the market. You can go to the nearest store or even order online, but not all of them turn out to be helpful. Moreover, they contain so many types of chemicals in them. One way or another, they are going to make things even worse with your hair. Hence to prevent hair loss, one should think about some natural way which won’t be harmful as well as no side effects should be associated with it.

 

 

Here we are discussing 10+ Effective Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises to Stop Hair Loss. Below are various useful Yoga Asana which, if you practice daily, will result in stopping of hair loss and overall health will be improved. Since ages, Yoga has been proved one of the most efficient ways for maintaining physical and mental health. It heals all three – Mind, Body, and Soul. With improved blood circulation, you will see miraculous effects of these Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises.

Once you start doing Yoga Asana, it is going to be very useful your entire body’s good health. With specific types of Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises, your digestion will be improved as well as it helps in reducing anxiety. Even several poses of Yoga Asana keeps your head in such a position in which improved blood flow goes throughout your head, and enhanced circulation will be circulated through your scalp.

 

10+ Effective Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises to Stop Hair Loss:

  1. Adho Mukha Svanasana: [Downward-Facing Dog Pose]

How to do it:

  • It would be good to use Yoga mat while you’re practicing Yoga Asana.
  • For Adho Mukha Svanasana, get into Push Ups position on your Yoga mat.
  • Now, keep your face towards the ground and extend your hands forward, shoulder width.
  • Bend your upper body downwards and strengthen your legs.
  • Keep your knees unbent.
  • From toe to hips, keep your body straight.
  • Now, hold your breath for a few seconds.
  • Beginners need to practice this Adho Mukha Svanasana in the morning while having the empty stomach.
  • In the starting days, hold the position for several seconds and then you will be able to keep the pose for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Benefits:

With this pose, your head is bent forward which lets the blood flow towards your head. The improved blood circulation then flows into the entire body. With such blood flow, digestion is also improved. From toe to spine and from head to hands, many parts of your body stretches out. Even the spine and neck have beneficial effects from this stretching. It releases stress throughout your body and helps to relax your mind and body, both.

  1. Uttanasana: [Standing Forward Bend Pose]

How to do it:

  • To do Uttanasana, stand straight on your Yoga mat.
  • Bend slowly towards the ground by bending your spine through the waist.
  • While bending forward, take your hand to your legs towards feet.
  • Do not bend your knees.
  • Try to touch your forehead to the knees, without bending your knees.
  • Keep your hands straight and keep your elbow on the sides of your knees.
  • Let your hands’ fingertips touch the rear part of the feet.
  • When your stomach is empty, preferably in the morning, perform the Uttanasana.
  • Other than morning, choose evening time, when your stomach is not so full, at least 5 to 7 after having the meal.
  • In the beginning, try to hold the pose for few seconds.
  • Later on, you will be able to hold the pose for more time.

Benefits:

The Uttanasana keeps your head downwards, facing the ground. Because of that, blood rushes towards the head and cells in the head gets improved blood flow. Any of the issues regarding a headache can be cured with the help of this asana. Even your stomach is stretched here, so digestive muscles are going to get massaged. It will result in preventing constipation problems. Regular practicing of Uttanasana will enhance your overall body and rejuvenates your health.

  1. Vajrasana: [Thunderbolt Pose/ Diamond Pose]

How to do it:

  • At first, kneel down on the floor, easily.
  • Keep your spine straight and heels together.
  • While kneeling down, bend your knees in such a way that after sitting your feet’s sole is supposed to touch your buttocks.
  • Keep your hands bend the elbow, keep your fingers straight, touching your thigh – knee.
  • Your fingers are supposed to be faced down.
  • Relax in the pose.
  • Deep breaths for a few minutes.
  • After moving out of the pose, stretch your legs forward.
  • This is a relaxed pose, keep breathing and holding the pose for several minutes.

Benefits:

It is believed that Pranayama done in Vajrasna gives your strength of a diamond, hence also known as the diamond pose. This asana is amongst those very few, which should be done after taking the meal. Beginners need to hold the post for at least 5 to 10 minutes, whereas regularly it can be done for several minutes. When done daily, the Vajrasana, i.e., Thunderbolt Pose helps you against constipation. It keeps your mind calm and clear. Also, helps losing help and obesity. This pose also helps for maintaining blood circulation in your body and bend muscles gives you strengthen.

  1. Pawanmuktasana: [Wind Relieving Pose]

How to do it:

  • Lie on the ground as your back lies on the ground.
  • Look straight towards the ceiling.
  • Inhale deeply and then move your left leg upwards to the chest.
  • Get your hands to help the leg to go up.
  • Try to get the left leg’s knee nearby your chest.
  • Hold the pose and exhale completely.
  • Then put back your leg, gently to the primary position, on the ground.
  • Now, inhale and do the same with your right leg.
  • Repeat as like the left leg – do the inhale and exhale in the same manner.

Benefits:

The Pawanmuktasana is supposed to be done in the morning, with the empty stomach. It mainly helps digestion process and also helps in relieving gas. Too fat from abdomen and buttocks is burnt slowly. Any issues regarding stomach and gas can be prevented with regular exercise of this pose. Even your stomach and abdominal organs get stretched hence it helps burn belly fats. After regular practice, you will be easily able to hold the pose for about 40 to 60 seconds.

  1. Sirsasana: [Headstand Pose]

How to do it:

  • Sit on the ground by placing your hips resting on the heels.
  • Then bend forward by keeping your forearm on the ground.
  • Interlock both hands’ fingers with each other.
  • Slowly place your fingers against your head and place on the ground.
  • Raise your knees off the floor and firmly put your head on the floor.
  • Give balance/ base to your head while your entire body goes upside down.
  • Inhale and hold the pose, as long as you can.
  • Then exhale slowly and get on the floor, the same way you went up.

Benefits:

You might have heard of this pose as the Head Stand. It is considered as King of Yogasana due to lots of benefits from it and the way it is kind of different than any other poses. When seeing the pictures of the Sirsasana, you might find it quite tricky to do, but once you master the pose, you will know that it is not that much hard. Through this posture, blood flow towards brain is improved, and hence it will nourish your mind. It is also able to cure thyroid and many other problems too.

One more important thing to remember, the Sirsasana is supposed to be done in the morning, most preferably. It is so because you need to have the gap of almost 10 to 12 hours from the last meal to do this pose. After mastering, try to hold the pose for around 2 to 5 minutes, as per your body supports.

  1. Surya Namaskar: [Sun Salutation]

Surya Namaskar contains total 12 different poses/ Asanas viz.

Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)
Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Padhastasana (Hand To Foot Pose)
Shwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian Pose)
Santolanasana (Inner Equanimity Pose)
Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with Eight Points)
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)
Ashwa Sanchalanasana ( Equestrian Pose)
Padahastasana (Hand To Foot Pose)
Hasta Utthanasana (Raised Arms Pose)
Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

With all these twelve Asana, each of them has their numerous benefits for the entire body. Since ages, Rishis have been doing the Surya Namaskara to maintain good health and live longer. It helps reducing weight as well as whole body’s blood circulation can also be improved. Even while doing the Surya Namaskar, you need to concentrate on both – inhale and exhale as well as holding breath at specific points is also essential.

  1. Sarvangasana: [All Limb Pose]

How to do it:

  • Lie down on the floor, facing upwards.
  • Slowly try to get your legs into upper direction.
  • Keep your hands on the ground.
  • Bend your body from the upper part, if possible, through your neck.
  • Get entire body upwards, slowly.
  • Keep your hands straight on the ground, bend them, interlock the fingers.
  • Joined/ interlocked fingers will give support for getting your body upwards.
  • Hold the post for a few seconds.

Benefits:

The Sarvangasana (All Limb Pose) is also said to be the Queen of all Asanas. It is quite challenging to do, as it involves bending entire body through the neck, be careful while performing it, if you need, get guidance from an instructor. Through this pose, your whole body including Shoulders, Stomach, Back, Legs gets stretched. It is one of the advanced level Hatha Yoga Poses. It is supposed to be done when you have the empty stomach. Try to hold the pose for about 30 to 60 seconds.

  1. Ustrasana (Camel Pose):

How to do it:

  • Kneel on the Yoga mat, place your hands on the hips.
  • Keep your knees in line with your shoulders.
  • Your feet’s sole is supposed to be facing the ceiling.
  • Inhale slowly and draw in your tail-bone towards the pubis.
  • Get into the pose as like you’re getting pulled from the navel.
  • While doing that, arch your back, slide your palms towards your feet, over feet.
  • Keep your arms straight.
  • Keep your neck in the neutral position.
  • Keep inhaling – exhaling for a few breaths, hold the pose.
  • Slowly release the pose.

Benefits:

The Ustrasana (Camel Pose) helps to improve the digestion. As you just read, your entire body is stretched in this pose, with that your back and shoulder muscles are also extended. Spine flexibility is improved with this pose. For women, it helps to regulate menstrual cycle as well as benefits to release tension in the ovaries.

  1. Sasangasana:

How to do it:

  • Kneel down on the floor, while resting your hips on the heels.
  • Slowly bend forward and get your hips off the heels.
  • Get your forehead/ crown of your head towards the floor, nearby your knees.
  • Try to touch the floor/ knees.
  • Keep your hands holding the heels.
  • After touching the ground, hold the position.
  • Try to hold it for about 4 to 5 breaths.
  • Then slowly go to the starting position, kneel down on the floor, resting your hips on the heels.

Benefits:

As we discussed, your head touches the floor. Hence the blood flow will be directed towards your scalp. Improved blood circulation helps healthy scalp, and it leads towards healthy hair. As the spine and back get stretched people having back problems, it will heal the pain. Back and neck pressure is released through this pose.

  1. Anuloma Viloma: [Alternate Nostril Breathing]

How to do it:

  • Sit simply in Padmasana.
  • Keep your eyes closed.
  • Relax your entire body.
  • Rest your hands on your knees.
  • Now, take your right-hand thumb close the right nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril, as much as you can.
  • Remove your hand from the right nostril, close the left nostril.
  • Exhale through the right nostril, while keeping the left nostril closed.
  • While doing this, keep your mind calm, focus on your deep breaths.
  • Concentrate your focus on the Pranayama which you are doing now.
  • Do the same with your left nostril and right hand, repeat inhale – exhale both processes.

Benefits:

With regular practice of Anuloma and Viloma, you can have improved inhale – exhale, and the functioning of lungs gets better. Even it helps for those who suffer from depression and tension. Both of these are amongst main reasons for hair fall, hence doing this Pranayama is going to help you a lot. Those who regularly perform this Pranayama gets relaxation of mind and also it strengthens the brain too.

  1. Kapalbhati Pranayama:

How to do it:

  • Sit on your Yoga mat, easily in Vajrasana.
  • Those who have issues regarding their back or spine can sit on the floor with the help of the wall, resting on the wall.
  • You have to sit straight and force your breath out – exhale in short intervals.
  • For beginners, take the interval of 20 to 30 breaths in the starting.
  • Those who are regularly practicing the pose can go up to 200 breaths.

Benefits:

This Pranayama helps in various ways to heal your body. Regular Kapalbhati Pranayama practice helps in losing belly fat. As this pose is associated with lungs and breathing, it strengthens the lungs. Improved blood flows throughout the entire body. Regular practice helps to activate brain cells, and eventually, it results in improved memory and concentration power. It even helps in healing in stress, dark circles around eyes also go away and helps your hair grow.

  1. Apanasana: [Knee to Chest Yoga Pose]

How to do it:

  • Just lie on your back on your Yoga mat.
  • Keep your spine straight.
  • Now, bend your right knee and get it towards your chest.
  • Interlock your fingers on the shin, below the knee.
  • While doing this with right leg, keep your left leg straight.
  • Take your right knee towards your armpit, relax your neck and shoulders.
  • Your back will feel pressure on the ground.
  • While you exhale, you can feel your stomach in pressure against your thigh.
  • Do the same with left leg taking towards your chest while right leg will be straight on the ground.

Benefits:

With regular practice, this pose helps preventing/ reducing excess anger, anxiety, and high blood pressure, etc. problems. These are one of the reasons for hair fall to most of the people. When you cure these ideas, your hair will grow naturally with the regular Yoga practice. This pose helps to purify your body by flushing out toxins from the body. Even with improved blood circulation, hair follicles stimulates, and hair grows naturally.

  1. Uttanpadasana: [Leg Raised Yoga Pose]

How to do it:

  • Lie down on your Yoga mat, placing your back on the ground.
  • Keep both hands on the sides, flat.
  • Your palms should be facing downwards, fingers straight.
  • Relax your body.
  • Inhale, and left both your legs, around 45 to 60 degrees upwards from the ground.
  • After lifting your legs, hold the pose for few seconds.
  • Get back to normal position.
  • After regular practice, you can hold the pose for around 15 to 20 seconds.

Benefits:

By lifting your legs, your stomach gets pressure and hence various problems such as acidity, indigestion, constipation, etc. can be cured. Abdominal organs are also strengthened. Hip, Back and Thigh muscles are strengthened.

Those who have gas problems, arthritis, heart problems, waist pain will heal their body with regular practice of this pose. Even diabetes is controlled by this Yoga Pose. Entire body gets improved blood flow and hair will grow naturally, with this pose.

Each of the above mentioned Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises has their numerous benefits. To obtain more of benefits, practice Yoga regularly poses,  as per instructions. To know more about these poses, how to do its steps, things to keep in mind, consult a yoga instructor and get all the essential details. With daily practice, miraculous effects of the Yoga can be achieved.

With those results, not only your hair will grow naturally but also your entire body will be fit and healthy. Moreover, Yoga Asana and Pranayama Exercises have been practiced since ages and give peace of mind.

Some Potential Dangers for Westerners of Advanced Pranayama Exercises

Some Potential Dangers for Westerners of Advanced Pranayama Exercises

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People who don’t breathe naturally, who, for example, carry unnecessary tension in their chests, backs, and bellies, face potential dangers when doing advanced pranayama exercises. People who practice advanced yoga breathing exercises without good teachers or much experience can easily hurt their diaphragms and other breathing muscles. They can also cause imbalances in their internal chemistry.

For most people, one of the main keys to transforming one’s breathing in a safe and effective way has to do with gradually relaxing and opening up all the breathing structures of the body, with releasing unnecessary tension, so that the body is free to breathe in the way it was designed to breathe, with harmonious coordination of the various breathing muscles and tissues. In general, this process requires deep, dynamic relaxation, not willful effort. It also requires inner sensitivity and awareness, a more intimate contact with our sensations. Here is a quote about this issue from the introduction to my book The Tao of Natural Breathing.

“The great spiritual pathfinder G. I. Gurdjieff … warned that without complete knowledge of our organism, especially of the interrelationships of the rhythms of our various organs, efforts to change our breathing can bring great harm. It is clear that work with breathing, especially some of the advanced yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) taught in the West through both classes and books, is fraught with many dangers. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim–a pioneer in the integration of body, mind, and spirit–discusses some of the dangers of teaching yogic breathing techniques to Westerners. He points out that most of these exercises, which ‘imply tension,’ were designed for Indians, who suffer from ‘an inert letting-go.’ Westerners, on the other hand, suffer from ‘too much upward pull … too much will.’ Dürckheim states that even though many yoga teachers try to help their students relax before giving them breathing exercises, they do not realize that the ‘letting-go’ required for deep relaxation can be achieved ‘only after long practice.’ At best, says Dürckheim, giving breathing exercises prematurely grafts new tensions onto the already established ones, and brings about ‘an artificially induced vitality … followed by a condition of exhaustion and the aspirant discontinues his efforts, his practice.’”

Copyright 1997 – 2014 by Dennis Lewis

The Power and Mysticism of Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama (yogic breathing technique) is also known within yoga as ‘the psychic breath’ It is produced by a light contraction at the pit of the throat around the glottis. The glottis affects voice modulation through expansion or contraction. Contracting the glottis lightly like this creates a light whispery, snoring sound on the inhalation and the exhalation.

This particular way of breathing has been harnessed by Yogis for untold generations to support and promote health as well as expand conscious awareness through Dharana – the concentration aspect of meditation practice.

The impact of the Ujjayi breath can be both deep and pervasive.  On a physical level, Ujjayi breath allows more oxygen to be transferred in the lungs, enhancing the flow of blood throughout the entire body similar to what occurs during periods of increased exercise.  The difference is when this pranayama is performed, the physical body becomes very relaxed, so the body and brain are able to reap the benefits of increased blood flow without the stress and wear caused by higher level exercise.

Ujjayi breath lowers blood pressure due to creating light pressure on the carotid sinuses. The Carotid sinuses are responsible for regulating blood pressure within the arteries.  Lower blood pressure supports health and longevity as well as being naturally calming for the mind.

Any pranayama in general works to correct and improve the rhythm of the breath. When performed with a high level of focus, Ujjayi Pranayama brings the breath into a solid rhythm. The added consciousness feedback of the sound created with this technique helps to reinforce the calming benefits of the rhythmic pattern. We are at once hearing, feeling, and aware of the benefit of the breath.  This equates to a deep impact on the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels of mind.

Ujjayi Breath Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System

When the mind is racing or processing stress, it is accepted that the body will be responding in kind.  Heart rate can speed up, blood pressure may rise, muscles will likely tighten, and most often the breath switches from nose breathing to mouth breathing. We may also switch from diaphragmatic breathing to shallow breathing where the shoulders and chest begin to move.  These are all physical signs that the sympathetic nervous system is becoming activated, kicking into ‘fight or flight’ mode.

Similarly, if the body has been patterned to shallow breathing and remaining in tension, this affects thought forms and emotion.  It can make the mind race and thoughts lean more towards the negative than the positive. Emotion will be heightened and lead more towards the unpleasant.  Not only is this a ‘chicken and egg’ cycle, it’s also a cycle that can become very engrained due to the involvement of muscle memory and the deep seated self-perpetuating, emotional impressions known in Yoga as Samskaras.

Ujjayi breathing stimulates the Vagus Nerve. The Vagus Nerve is the heart of the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the 10th cranial nerve. It controls the organs of maintenance – the heart, digestion, breathing and glands. Twenty percent of the fibers of the vagus nerve do that. The rest send information from the gut to the brain.

Ujjayi breathing emphasizes the input from the viscera (abdominal organs) to the brain and this dramatically changes how your brain is working. If we just do a slow breathing rate (2 to 4 breaths per minute), the Vagus Nerve will switch on. However, combining it with light resistance (as in ujjayi) further enhances the input the Vagus Nerve has in the brain.

Incorporating Bhandas (energy locks) also further activates the Vagus Nerve and releases nitrous oxide within the body and brain.  Nitrous oxide is released by the nasal sinuses, and has been found to act as an anti-inflammatory, hormonal and antiseptic. It is also a repair agent for the entire respiratory tract, bloodstream, digestion, and delicate lung tissues.

From the point of view of meditation and higher, expanded levels of consciousness.  The ancient Sages and Siddhas have told us that relaxation of the mind is required to expand consciousness and for true inspiration to be channeled through to us.  It is only when the mind is completely at rest, when the intellect is transcended, but awareness is still fully present, that we reach any state of true meditation (Dhyana). 

There is a lot involved in the stress response of our entire system.  Both mind and body are involved. Viewing stress response as pervasive in this way, from one angle, seems overwhelming – even hopeless, but the encompassing nature of our system also means that there are many places and opportunities to interrupt the stress cycle and affect change for the better.

Not only are there many places to interrupt and adjust the cycle, all that is required in most cases is to adjust the breath.  The breath is key, because the breath is literally carrying our life.  We can survive for a period of time without food, we can survive for a period of time without water, but survival without the breath is down to a few short minutes in most circumstances.  So, from a psychophysical perspective, it’s no wonder adjusting the breath has a major impact on us.  It is at the root of our very survival. 

Since the breath is crucial to our life – Many say breath IS life.  Therefore, adjusting the breath has a great and in some cases instant impact on the quality of our life. In Yoga and meditation, we can harness this process to be our friend rather than our foe.

Access to the Psychic Realm

This is where the mystical aspect of Ujjayi breath comes into play.  The breath carries Life-force.  Life force in yoga is called Prana.  In order to concentrate the mind, we need high levels of Prana – We must be charged with Life-force. Similarly, in order to free the mind and open it up to expansion and intuition, the intellect must be transcended while awareness is retained ready to connect with and take note of new ideas, realizations and levels of intuition.  The Ujjayi breath works on both the physical and psychic levels of our Being simultaneously.  While it calms the nervous system through activating the vagus nerve more quickly than ordinary slower breathing, it also stimulates the hypothalamus, a part of the brain near the pituitary gland responsible for heightened awareness.

Heightened awareness is what leads us to be open to intuition, inspiration and the many subtle process of life and communication that inhabit the ‘psychic’ realm. Even some of the great scientific minds such as Albert Einstein greatly valued completely calming the mind and nervous system.  Einstein knew that his mind had to shift to solve a problem, and the evidence of what he achieved is a powerful testimony. He took meditation breaks during his working day to develop new theories.  He said:  “The really valuable thing is intuition”. “Through meditation I found answers before I even asked the question.”

Ujjayi Pranayama is an approachable and impactful breathing technique requiring minimal instruction and effort. It can be harnessed anywhere as an acute measure to calm the mind and body ‘in the moment’.  It can also be practiced daily as part of general yoga practice, where its pranic benefits will be absorbed and stored up by the nervous system to cushion future episodes of stress.  When prescribed by an experienced teacher, in conjunction with other more targeted, deeper meditation techniques, Ujjayi breath can be a powerful booster to the overall impact of meditation practice, enhancing both the quality and depth of experience for the meditator.

By Swami Premajyoti Saraswati

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Nadi Suddhi Pranayama, Alternate Nostril Breathing

Pranayama

Breath, life and energy are intrinsically connected and yogis have a single word for all three of them – prana. Pranayama, where Breath is controlled, increases vitality and mental focus, and expands consciousness.

Breath acts as a bridge to our nervous system and by exploring pranayama practices we can observe how deeply it is connected to the mind. Just as our breathing alters depending on our mood, our psychological state can be altered by changes in our breath. Conscious breathing brings oxygen and energy to the cells and enhances all cellular processes. It’s a fantastic source of energy. It’s simple: when we breathe better we feel better.
– Yoga Lily, Hatha Yoga classes in Milton Keynes

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi Suddhi Pranayama – this pranayama practice purifies the energy channels (nadis) and balances the flow of energy between the left and right sides of the body. It is especially beneficial when you need to re-centre yourself and is useful in leading you into meditation.

1. Sit in a position that gives you a straight back and is easy for you to maintain. Allow the back of the left hand to rest on top of the left knee, with the arm extended. Touch the left thumb to index finger in Chin Mudra.

2. Bend the right arm and, keeping the elbow at chest height, bring the tip of the right thumb to rest on the bridge of the nose, just above the right nostril.

3. Have the tip of the right ring finger just away from the left nostril. The little finger lies along the ring finger. Index and middle fingers are folded down to touch your palm. This is called Nose Mudra.

Nose Mudra finger positioning

4. Follow these steps from 1 to 3 in a cycle (one round):

  1. To start, press the right nostril lightly shut with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
  2. At the end of the inhalation close the left nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb. Exhale and inhale through the right nostril.
  3. At the end of the inhalation close the right nostril and release the left nostril. Exhale through the left nostril.

This is one round.

Nadi Suddhi Pranayama, Alternate Nostril Breathing

5. Continue for 7 to 12 rounds. If you like, use the thumb of your left hand to count the rounds against each segment of the fingers of the left hand. Bring the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger, then work down to the base of the finger. Moving up the middle finger and so on, until the 12th round takes you to the tip of the little finger.

6. As you become accustomed to this practice, you may like to do two more cycles of 12 rounds, resting the hand down and breathing naturally in between each cycle.

7. Once this technique is comfortable, gradually lengthen the breath. Silently counting the lengths of the inhalation and exhalation, making them even in length. Once even, increase the count by one beat and continue for a few rounds. If you still feel relaxed, increase it by another beat. As long as your breath remains smooth and even, add one more beat. If you notice any change or disturbance in the breathing, return to a lower count.

Once this technique is comfortable, gradually lengthen the breath

8. During the practice, don’t allow the elbow to drag upper body forward or take the head off centre. Have eyes closed, so it is easy to focus on the breath. When you have finished the practice, return the right hand to the right knee. Stay with your eyes closed with your normal, natural breathing for as long as you like, enjoying the sensation of inner spaciousness and 70 this practice can give you.

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