The most important "tool" in the yoga toolbox is the breath. The breath is your link between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. When you return the unconscious breathing process to your consciousness expands to include the feelings and the sensations of the body/mind. When you become aware of the feelings and sensations, you can begin to be conscious of the habits of the body/mind. And when you bring your habits into your awareness, you can begin to make choices out of your conscious mind instead of the unconscious mind.
The breath is a barometer for the nervous system; as nerves become imbalanced, breathing changes as well, becoming shallow, tense, jerky and marked by notable sighs and pauses. This in turn is registered by the mind and an internal feedback loop is established. Changes in breathing create internal distress, which sustains poor breathing, which perpetuates distress.
When agitated breathing is prolonged, it creates an unsettled and defensive outlook on life. Relaxed breathing, on the other hand, calms the nervous system. When the breath is habitually deep and smooth, reactions to life events do not created disturbances in our emotional life. This is why relaxed breathing has been used to good effect in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, panic/anxiety, migraine headaches, hypertension and asthma. And most importantly, from the point of view of mental health, the relationship between breathing and emotion is a indelibly linked.
During times of increasing stress and emotional tension, automatic mechanisms transform breathing. Auxiliary muscles in the chest wall and neck are activated to move larger volumes of air in and out of the lungs, and the pace of breathing increases as well. As a result, the body is prepared for danger, and a momentary burst of energy is available. But when chest breathing becomes habitual, evidence suggests that it undermines normal functioning and depletes energy - in complicated ways.
Unfortunately, the mere knowledge that chest breathing can increase anxiety and stress is usually not enough to change our breathing habits. Most of us need to make additional efforts to reform unhealthy breathing styles and replace them with more relaxed, tranquil breathing. To start, we begin my practicing 3-part breath:
The big muscle of breathing is the diaphragm.
When you breathe in it moves down to draw the breath in.
When you breathe out, the diaphragm moves up to push the breath out.
To make this breath a habit, take your hands to your belly (below the navel) and feel the belly expand as you breathe in and condense as you breathe out.
When this feels natural, move your hands to embrace your low ribs and feel the breath fill our belly and then expand your ribs.
When this feels natural, move your hands to the top of the chest with your fingers just below the collarbone and experience the breath filling to the top of the chest and the breastbone rising.
When this becomes a habit, you will find that your breath is your first action to bring yourself home.
Home is where your mind, body, and spirit are truly present, not in the future or in the past but in the present moment. When you are in this place you will be at your best....confident, competent and at peace.
Derived from the Goddess Bhramari.
The Sanskrit root bhram means "bees" and refers to the hum of inner consciousness. As Bhramari-Devi, the Mother took the form of the precocious queen bee. The sound penetrates the ajna chakra, where the mind merges into buddhi.
This breath practice can relieve stress, agitation, and anger. It can also help to calm the body and mind before sleep.
If you have a hard time meditating or are new to the practice of meditation, Bhramari breath can also be a helpful tool. While practicing Bhramari breath you close your eyes, block your ears and make an audible humming sound. This can help to block out external distractions (like noisy traffic out your window!) and the humming can give you something to focus on while also helping to quiet any internal thoughts or mind chatter.
Contraindications: Practice on an empty stomach
How to perform Bhramari Breathing:
While practicing Bhramari breath, notice if you can feel the vibration of your humming in your face. You may notice a vibrating sensation in your jaw, cheek bones, teeth, or maybe even on the surface of your skin. If you are having trouble feeling the vibration, try humming at a higher pitch. Practice balancing the effort of your hum that it is strong enough to feel the vibration but gentle enough to feel calming and relaxing.
Note: Please make sure to wash your to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, before and after touching your face.
Shanmukhi mudra is a hand position that represents closing the six gates of perception. In this hand position the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth are symbolically closed. To use Shanmukhi mudra during Bhramari pranayama, close your eyes. Use your thumbs to block your ears. Place your index fingers over your closed eyelids, your middle fingers on either side of your nose, your ring fingers just above your closed lips, and your pinky fingers just below your lips. If using Shanmukhi mudra during this breath practice, do not block your nose or hold your breath. Make sure that your hands are positioned in a way that allows you to comfortably and continuously breath in and out through your nose.
Kapalabhati is also one of the six shatkarmas. The Sanskrit word kapal means 'cranium' or 'forehead' and bhati means "light" or "splendor" and also "perception" or "knowledge"'. Kapalabhati is the practice which brings a state of light or clarity to the frontal region of the brain. Another name for this practice is kapalshodhana, the word shodhana meaning "to purify"
Kapalbhati should be practiced after asana or neti and immediately before pratyahara or other Dharana meditation techniques. Any time of day on an empty stomach.
Precautions: If pain or dizziness is experienced, stop the practice and sit quietly for some time. Proceed with less force after pain or dizziness has passed.
Contraindications: Not to be practiced by those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, vertigo, epilepsy, stroke, hernia, or gastric ulcer.
Benefits: Purifies ida and pingala nadis, and removes sensory distractions from the mind. It is used to energize the mind for mental work, to remove sleepiness and to prepare the mind for meditation. It has a cleansing effect on the lungs so it is a good practice for asthmatics and those suffering from emphysema, bronchitis and tuberculosis. After several months preparation, it can be effective for women to use during childbirth. It balances and strengthens the nervous system and tones the digestive organs. For spiritual aspirants, this practice arrests thoughts and visions.
How to perform:
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. (e.g., hero pose)
Close the eyes and relax the whole body.
Inhale deeply to expand the abdominal muscles and exhale with a forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. Do not strain.
The next inhale is passive allowing abdominal muscles to expand, again perform a forceful contraction on the exhale. It is important that this technique be from abdomen and not the chest.
Perform 10 repetitions to begin with. After the ten repetitions, inhale and exhale deeply. This is one round. Practice 3-5 rounds.
After completing the practice, maintain awareness of the void in the region of the eyebrow center, the emptiness and calm.
Bhastra means bellows and in this pranayama technique the abdominal muscles move forcefully in and out like blacksmith's bellows.
Cleans the lungs of stale, residual air.
The respiratory system is purified, and internal vigor is aroused.
Purifies the blood.
Reduces carbon dioxide in the blood.
Balances the doshas
Helps alleviate inflammation in the throat and reduces phlegm.
Balances and strengthens the nervous system.
High blood pressure
***A slow, conscientious approach to this practice is recommended.***
How to perform - there are 3 variations:
1. Front Bellows
2. Side to side bellows
First exhale and inhale is done facing front.
If its morning turn head to the right (left in the evening) and repeat the rapid exhale and inhale.
Turn the head back to the front and repeat the exhale/inhale.
Then move to the left and exhale/inhale.
This is one cycle that may be repeated seven to 21 times.
3. Alternate bellows
The rapid exhale/inhale is done with one nostril at a time. Remember "right at night" so start with the left nostril to begin in the morning.
"The prolonged practice of bhastrika energizes every atom of the body. It sets the entire system in motion and purifies it, thus awakening higher powers."