Pranayama which was once translated as “breathing exercise” is now recognised by scientists throughout the world as a means of invigorating and accelerating the revitalising processes in the body. Prana is not the breath which you inhale – prana is life force or subtle energy. With the help of breath we can recharge the prana in the body.
Man lives on prana and oxygen, supplied through the medium of breath, through the nostrils. Usually both nostrils do not flow at the same time; one nostril dominates every 90 minutes. This is the cycle of left nostril (ida nadi) and right nostril (pingala nadi). Nadi means energy channel. There are 72,000 nadis in the human system of which ida, pingala and sushumna nadis are located on the left, right and centre of the spine respectively. Both nostrils are directly connected to the left and right brain hemispheres, each of which controls certain functions of the body. Thus it is possible to recharge the entire human system through the practice of pranayama.
Normally a person breathes 15 times per minute on average. With pranayama it is possible to bring the breath rate (number of breaths per minute) to 2-6. Breath rate is directly related to life span. This can be observed in other species as well. Take the example of a tortoise or an elephant, the breath rate in these species is 4-5 per minute. Thus they live over 100 years. While a dog’s breath rate is 25-30 per minute and life span is an average of 15 years. It is important to discipline one’s breathing patterns to live a long and healthy life.
Following is a simple technique called sahaj pranayama which must be practised for 40 days in order to train the lungs and the mind before attempting kumbhak or breath retention (Yoga: Understanding pranayama Part 1) or advanced techniques of pranayama.
Sahaj: easy; pranayama: breath regulation
Sit in one of the meditative postures — padmasana (lotus pose), vajrasana (diamond pose) or sukhasana (easy pose). Place the thumb and index finger together in chin mudra (gesture for concentration) as shown in the picture. Close eyes and inhale for five counts and exhale for 10 counts.
When you inhale, the stomach pushes outward like an inflated balloon. As you exhale, the stomach deflates. When you inhale, keep the awareness on the heart area. Take the breath from the nostrils all the way down your spine. Also focus on the stomach as it inflates and deflates. These are vital processes to turn the mind inwards.
With eyes closed, position the eyeballs to look straight. When intense pranayama is practised, eyeballs begin to move towards the centre, with awareness on the trikuti or the space between the eyebrows. Avoid this in the beginning as you may develop a slight headache.
Minimum 20 rounds should be practised. Remember to keep a slight smile while you practise this technique in order to keep your awareness in the present.
Practice of the week
Padmasana with chin mudra
Next week: Understanding pranayama: Part 3
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