One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Pranayama, or Breathing Techniques. These techniques are used to regulate our life force. They are commonly practiced before a Yoga Asana practice. I will break down 2 of the 6 main Pranayama practices in this article.
Also known as Humming Bee breath, Bhramari is a black Indian bee. This breathing technique takes this name because it produces a sound very similar to the humming of a bee. It’s profound soothing effect on the brain calms the mind greatly. It has many healing properties for the body and mind and can be practiced at any time, especially to relieve stress and find calmness. Bhramari breath alleviates anger, anxiety, & insomnia and reduces high blood pressure. It can be practiced after a surgery as it is said to speed up the healing of body tissues. It also strengthens and improves the voice and aids with throat ailments.
NOTE: DO NOT practice BHRAMARI breath while lying down or if you suffer from chronic ear infections or psychological conditions.
To practice Bhramari breath, find a comfortable seated position. Your lips should be closed with the teeth slightly separated and jaw relaxed throughout the practice so the sound is heard and felt more distinctly. Staying completely still, close your eyes and draw your awareness to the centre of your head. Lift your elbows to the side and bring the fingers to the face, plugging the ears with your thumbs. The index fingers rest just under the brows, middle fingers on the sides of the nose, ring fingers just under the nostrils, and the pinky fingers on either side of the mouth. Breath in through the nose and exhale slowly while creating a controlled, deep, steady humming sound like that of a bee. At the end of the exhalation, inhale gently, and repeat the humming exhalation process. Start with one round of 10 breaths, and gradually increase rounds and breaths.
Nadhi Sodhana or Anuloma Viloma Breath
Also known as Nerve Purification and Alternate Nostril Breathing, Nadhi Sodhana means purification of the energy channels. Because you change nostrils with each breath cycle, it is used to balance and settle the mind, body, and emotions as well as the energy channels. It also balances the brain hemisphere and has a soothing effect which relieves anxiety and improves concentration. There are three levels of Alternate Nostril Breathing: Basic Alternate Nostril Breathing, Alternate Nostril Breathing with internal retention, and Alternate Nostril Breathing with internal and external retention.
NOT: DO NOT practice NADHI SODHANA if you have a cold, flu, or fever. If you have heart issues, limit the use of retention (holding your breath) and longer counts.
To prepare for this breathing technique, make sure to blow your nose fully. Come to a seated position on your knees and place your arms across your chest with your hands in your armpits. Close your eyes, sit up straight, and practice breathing gently, slowly and deeply until your breath is even through both nostrils. Once this occurs, find a cross-legged seat. Bring the right index and middle finger to your third eye or between your eyebrows. You will use your thumb to plug your right nostril and ring finger to plug your left nostril.
Start by closing the right nostril. Breathe in and out through the left nostril for 5 breath cycles, keep it slow and controlled and breathing with awareness. Then switch to plug the left nostril and repeat the 5 breath cycles through the right nostril. Then lower the hand and repeat the 5 breath cycles through both nostrils. Complete this full process a few more times, and once mastered, you can move to the next stage of basic Alternate Nostril Breathing.
Bring the right hand back to the position in front of the face. Plug the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril for a count of 5. Then close the left nostril, release the thumb from the right nostril, and slowly release the breath through the right nostril for a count of 5. Then inhale for a count of 5 through the right nostril, plug the right nostril, release the finger from the left nostril, and release the breath through the left nostril for a count of 5. This is one round of the breathing technique. Practice for a few rounds, gradually increasing the rounds and length of the breaths. The max length of breath is 10 seconds for both inhalation and exhalation. From here you can experiment with the ratio of breath. For example, perhaps your inhale is 5 seconds and your exhale is 8 seconds.
To practice Alternate Nostril Breathing with internal retention, follow the same steps but after each inhalation, hold the breath for the same amount of time as the inhalation before moving into the exhalation. To practice Alternate Nostril Breathing with internal and external retention, follow the same steps as the internal retention, but after each exhalation, hold your breath for the same amount of time as your inhalation. Once these techniques have been mastered, you can play with the ratios of breath. An example of this is an inhalation for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale for 10 second, hold for 10 seconds.
I hope you found these explanations helpful. This concludes the Pranayama series. Namaste Yogis!