This past week, I have had to deal with the loss of a friend and the loss of an extended family pet. In addition, we had a blizzard, which led to many schedule changes. Easter is upon us and my new granddaughter was scheduled to arrive Friday morning. This led me to run into Kmart for a few last minute items. Big mistake.
Apparently there was a liquid detergent spill on the other side of the store. Didn’t matter how far away it was. Suddenly, I began coughing uncontrollably. When the cough drop didn’t work, and as I got closer to the spill, I realized I was in a full-fledged asthma attack. Big Bummer.
The following day, my granddaughter entered our world! Wow! This is a lot. It would all be perfect if I could just breathe…
Which brings us to the Fourth Limb of Yoga: Pranayama
Is there anything magical about breathing? Well, without the breath, there is no life. Prana, meaning “life force” and yama, meaning “to control”. 
One of the things I love most about Kundalini Yoga is the intense focus on the practice of Pranayama such as in the video below:
There are several types of Pranayama here are just a few:
Also known as Belly Breathing or Deep Breathing. It is a very simple yet powerful form of breathing:
Photo Courtesy of: Eiriu-Eolas.org
Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most recommended breathing excersizes for asthma and other respitory diseases.
- Place one hand on your bellybetween your lower ribs and navel.
- Relax your upper chest and shoulders.
- Breathe in through your nose, you should feel your tummy rise or move out as you breathe in.
- Breathe out gently through your lips, you will feel your belly moving in.
- Practice first when sitting and relaxed so that it is automatic when you really need it.
Suryan Bhedan Pranayama (Right Nostril Breathing)
Surya is a Hindu word which means, “the sun”. In Surya Bheda Pranayama, we activate the right nostril channel(Surya Nadi).
Here are a few benefits one gets from practicing Right Nostril Breathing:
- Has been known to help with weight loss.
- Increasess vitality.
- Very effective for depression, low energy.
- Helps with stress management.
- Reduces anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
- May bring on Spiritual Awakenings.
- It provides all the benefits of Deep breathing as well
Note: Surya Bheda Pranayama is mentioned in the yoga texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and the Gheranda Samhita.
- Sit in a meditative asana (position).
- Straighten your trunk and spine and place the hands on the knees. Take few relaxed breaths before starting the practice.
- Next, raise the right hand and place the forefinger and the middle finger on the forehead between the eyebrows.
- Use the ring finger to close the left nostril.
- Breathe in slowly through the right nostril and fill the lungs entirely.
- Close both nostrils (thumb closes the right nostril and ring finger closes the left nostril) and hold the breath.
- Perform Jalandhara Bandha (the chin lock) and Moola Bhandha.
- Hold the breath to the extent that you are comfortable. In the yoga texts, it is said that one should hold the breath till perspiration appears. But, be cautious with breath retention and never overdo it.
- Release Moola Bhandha and Jalandhara Bandha and exhale through the left nostril (Ida Nadi), keeping the right nostril closed.
- This is one round. Repeat as many rounds as comfortable. You may start with 5 rounds and later increase it to 10 or beyond. Also, the duration of Kumbhaka should be increased carefully over a period of time. Advanced practitioners can go up to 80 rounds per sitting.
One of the most popular forms of Pranayama Ujiayi is particularly useful for calming the mind. It is also known to be beneficial to those suffering from stress, insomnia, and mental tension. With practice, you’ll learn to guide your breath — allowing your breath to guide your practice.
In contrast to other pranayamas, practiced while seated or lying down, Ujjayi is actually performed throughout your practice in every pose. The steadiness, sound, and depth of the Ujjayi breath assist in uniting (Yoga means union after all), your mind, body, and spirit to the present moment. This unification brings fullness and depth to our individual practice. In addition, the deep exhalations and extra oxygen fortify and reinforce your physical practice!
Would you like to release pent-up emotions and frustrations? Practiced Ujiayi routinely!
- Begin seated in a comfortable position, such as Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Let your body relax and gently close your eyes. Drop your mouth open slightly, relaxing your jaw and your tongue.
- Take a cleansing breathe.
- Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
- On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. (You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out.)
- When you feel comfortable with the control your throat during the inhalations and exhalations, gently close your mouth and begin breathing only through your nose.
- Keep the same constriction in your throat as you did when your mouth was open, continuing to hear the “ocean” sound as you breathe through your nose.
- Concentrate on the sound of your breath; allow it to calm your mind. It should be audible to you, but not too loud.
- Let your inhalations fill your lungs to their fullest expansion. Completely release the air during your exhalations.
If you are practicing Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga, you will maintain the connection of Ujjayi breath and asanas throughout your practice, releasing your Ujjayi breath when your practice is complete and you are in Corpse Pose (Savasana).
Nadi Shuddhi Pranayama or Anuloma – Viloma Alternate nostril breathing
Nadi Shuddhi is a fundamental form of pranayama that keeps a check on heart rate and makes the blood flow smoother. In addition to all these, it calms and focuses the mind. Increasing the oxygen flow into your body with as fewer breaths as possible is its main purpose.
- If you are a beginner in pranayama, you can sit in Sukhasana.
- Close your left nostril with the help of your left thumb and exhale the concerned breath fully through the right nostril.
- Inhale the air from the right nostril gently.
- Fill your lungs with as much air as you can before closing the right nostril by the center of your left hand or index finger.
- Next, exhale the air through the left nostril.
- The next step is to inhale through the left side and fill the lungs with maximum air.
- Close the left nostril to exhale the air through the right side.
Make sure, the breathing is wholesome and the air passage is full. It is best to perform this a minimum of ten times. You can do more if desired.
When I suffered from Gastroparesis, I was not allowed to take any pain killers. I had to learn how to breathe through the pain. Sometimes, I forgot. Fortunately, my husband was by my side reminding me to return to the breath. I cannot tell you enough, how much this not only helped with the pain, but also with my sanity. Intense chronic pain is not only physically stressful, but also mentally and emotionally.
When we are suffering from loss, we can just breathe.
When we are in physical pain, we can just breathe.
When we are mentally exhausted, we can just breathe.
When we are emotionally stressed, we can just breathe.
There is a breath for every circumstance in life. Just breathe.
Stay blissful my friends – E