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Bhastrika Pranayama - Bellows Breath, How to do Bhastrika Pranayama - Bellows Breath, Benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama - Bellows Breath, Precautions, & a note for yoga practitioners

Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath) pranayama burns up toxins and helps balance the doshas i.e kapha, phlegm; pitta, bile; and vata, wind. Yoga experts share how to do bhastrika pranayama, how to do Bhastrika Pranayama, its 4 techniques, benefits, and precautions.

How to do Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breath)

Bhastrika Pranayama Technique I

  • Preparatory practice: Sit in a comfortable meditation posture with the hands resting on the knees in either chin or jnana mudra. Keep the head and spine straight, close the eyes and relax the whole body.
  • Take a deep breath in and breathe out forcefully through the nose. Immediately afterwards breathe in with the same force.
  • Forceful inhalation results from fully expanding the abdominal muscles and forceful exhalation from firm contraction of the abdominal muscles. Do not strain. 
  • During inhalation, the diaphragm descends and the abdomen moves outward. During exhalation, the diaphragm moves upward and the abdomen moves inward. The movements should be slightly exaggerated. Continue in this manner, counting 1 0 breaths.
  • Take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly.
  • This is one round. Practise up to 5 rounds.

Practice note: 

  • When accustomed to this style of breathing, gradually increase the speed, always keeping the breath rhythmical. The force of inhalation and exhalation must be equal.

Bhastrika Pranayama Technique 2: Alternate nostrils

  • Sit in a comfortable meditation asana, preferably pad­ masana or siddha/siddha yoni asana.
  • Keep the head and spine straight. Close the eyes and relax the whole body.
  • Raise the right hand and perform nasagra mudra.
  • Left nostril: Close the right nostril with the thumb.
  • Breathe in and out forcefully, without straining, through the left nostril 1 0 times. There should be a sniffing sound in the nose, but no sound should come from the throat or chest.
  • The abdomen should expand and contract rhythmically with the breath. The pumping action should be performed by the abdomen alone; the chest, shoulders and face remain relaxed.
  • After 10 breaths, take a deep breath in and breathe out through the left nostril.
  • Right nostril: Close the left nostril and repeat the same process through the right nostril.
  • Both nostrils: Replace the raised hand on the knee.
  • Repeat the same process through both nostrils. 

Duration

  • Ten breaths through the left, the right and both nostrils, as above, forms one complete round. Practise up to 5 rounds.

Breathing pattern while doing Technique 2: Alternate nostrils

  • Beginners may take several free breaths between rounds so that there is no strain.
  • Breathing may be practised at 3 breath rates: slow, medium and fast, depending on individual capacity.
  • Slow bhastrika is approximately one breath every 2 seconds, with no undue force on inhalation or exhalation. 
  • It is like amplified normal breathing. It is especially useful for beginners, but may also be practised at all stages. Medium breathing increases the speed of respiration to approximately one breath every second.
  • Fast breathing means a speed of around 2 breaths per second. Both medium and fast breathing are suitable for intermediate and advanced practitioners.
  • As abdominal muscles become stronger with regular practice, the number of respirations may be increased by 5 per month until the count of 50 respirations is attained.

Precautions while doing Technique 2: Alternate nostrils

  • Bhastrika is a dynamic practice requiring a large expenditure of physical energy. Beginners are advised to take a short rest after each round. 
  • Avoid violent respiration, facial contortions and excessive shaking of the body. A feeling of faintness, excessive perspiration or vomiting indicates that the practice is being performed incorrectly.
  • If any of these symptoms are experienced, the advice of a competent teacher should be sought.
  • This practice purifies the blood. However, if the stages are rushed, all the impurities will be ejected from the body in a rush, which may exacerbate conditions caused by detoxification. A slow, conscientious approach to this practice is therefore recommended.
  • Bhastrika should not be practised by people with high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcer, stroke, epilepsy, retinal problems, glaucoma or vertigo. The elderly, those suffering from lung diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, those recovering from tuberculosis, or in the first trimester of pregnancy are recommended to practise only under the guidance of a competent teacher.

Benefits of doing Technique 2: Alternate nostrils

  • This practice burns up toxins and helps balance the doshas or humours: kapha, phlegm; pitta, bile; and vata, wind. It is a useful practice for women during labour after a few months of proper preparation.
  • Because of the rapid exchange of air in the lungs, there is an increase in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of the bloodstream. This stimulates the metabolic rate, producing heat and flushing out wastes and toxins. The rapid and rhythmic movement of the diaphragm also massages and stimulates the visceral organs, toning the digestive system.
  • Bhastrika reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the blood. It helps to alleviate inflammation in the throat and any accumulation of phlegm. It balances and strengthens the nervous system, inducing peace, tranquillity and one­ pointedness of mind in preparation for meditation.

Bhastrika Pranayama Technique 3: with Antar Kumbhaka (inner retention)

  • Once technique 2 has been mastered.
  • Left nostril: Close the right nostril with the thumb.
  • Breathe in and out forcefully through the left nostril. The abdomen should expand and contract rhythmically with the breath.
  • After completing the forceful breaths, take a deep breath in, expanding both the abdomen and the chest, close both nostrils and retain the breath for a few seconds.
  • Exhale through the left nostril
  • Right nostril: Close the left nostril and repeat the same process through the right nostril.
  • Both nostrils: After completing the forceful breaths through both nostrils, inhale slowly and deeply, close both nostrils and retain the breath for a few seconds.
  • Breathe out slowly through both nostrils.
  • This is one round. Practise up to 5 rounds.

Practice note: 

  • If the exhalation seems locked after retention, a slight inhalation before exhalation releases the locked condition of the glottis and brings the respiratory muscles back into action.

Advanced practice (addition of bandhas)

  • Jalandhara and moola bandhas should be perfected as individual practices before being applied in this practice. After antar kumbhaka has been mastered,jalandhara and moola bandha may be practised during internal breath retention.
  • At the end of each round, inhale deeply and hold the breath inside. Practise jalandhara bandha and then moola bandha. After the required count of retention, release moola bandha,jalandhara bandha, and then exhale.

Duration

  • Up to 5 rounds. The duration of inner retention can gradually be increased up to 30 seconds.
  • Do not strain.

Precautions while doing Advanced practice (addition of bandhas)

  • Before practising pranayama with bandhas, seek the guidance of a competent teacher.
  • The contra-indications for jalandhara and moola bandhas apply as well as those noted for bhastrika technique 2.

Bhastrika Pranayama Technique 4: with Bahir Kumbhaka (external retention)

  • After technique 3 has been mastered, external retention may be commenced.
  • After perfecting the practice with external retention, maha bandha may be applied. Maha bandha should first be perfected as an individual practice.
  • At the end of each round, inhale deeply through both nostrils and then exhale completely.
  • Hold the breath outside for a few seconds. Practise maha bandha.
  • Release maha bandha and inhale. Duration: Up to 5 rounds.
  • The duration of external retention can be gradually increased up to 30 seconds. Do not strain.

Precautions while doing Technique 4: with Bahir Kumbhaka (external retention)

  • See the contra-indications for maha bandha as well as for bhastrika.

Benefits of doing Technique 4: with Bahir Kumbhaka (external retention)

  • This practice activates the brain and induces clarity of thought and concentration. It increases vitality and lowers levels of stress and anxiety by raising the energy and harmonizing the pranas. It clears pranic blockages, causing sushumna nadi to flow, which leads to deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening. It is reputed to bum through karma.

Note:

  • The Sanskrit word bhastrika means ‘bellows’. Thus, bhastrika pranayama is also known as the bellows breath, as air is drawn forcefully in and out of the lungs like the bellows of a village blacksmith.
  • The bellows increase the flow of air into the fire, producing more heat.
  • Similarly, bhastrika pranayama increases the flow of air into the body to produce inner heat at both the physical and subtle levels, stoking the inner fire of mind/body).

Preparatory practices

  1. Natural breathing
  2. Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing
  3. Thoracic breathing
  4. Clavicular breathing
  5. Yogic breathing

Types of Pranayamas  

  1. Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Psychic network purification)
  2. Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling breath)
  3. Sheetkari Pranayama (Hissing breath)
  4. Bhramari Pranayama (Humming bee breath)
  5. Ujjayi Pranayama (The psychic breath)
  6. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows breath)
  7. Kapalbhati Pranayama (Frontal brain cleansing breath)
  8. Moorchha Pranayama (Swooning or fainting breath)
  9. Surya Bhedi Pranayama (Vitality stimulating breath)

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