PREPARATORY BREATHING PRACTICES
Most of what we do in weekly classes consists of preparatory practices to become aware of the natural breathing process.
- Natural breath awareness - for example, watching the breath, perhaps counting but not changing it in any way
- Deepening awareness of breathing process - e.g. the journey of the breath
- Conscious breathing - e.g. studying the abdominal, thoracic and upper chest breath, sometimes with arm movements
Then we need to make progress in the length, depth and force (becoming more subtle) and being comfortable especially with retention of the inhale and the exhale. Retentions can take many weeks of practice to become comfortable, and some people should aavoid them; for example people with high blood pressure, or in pregnancy.
CLASSICAL PRANAYAMA PRACTICES
should be approached with caution under the guidance of an experienced teacher. The higher ratios should only be practised under the guidance of a guru, preferably living in a controlled, peaceful situation e.g.an ashram.
The classical texts describe 8 formal seated pranayama practices. Some of them are vigorous and increase energy; some are calming and quietening.
1. Nadi Sodhana - alternate nostril breathing
This practice has both physical and mental health benefits. It induces tranquillity, clarity of thought and concentration, and is recommended for those involved in mental work. It increases vitality and lowers levels of stress and anxiety by harmonizing the pranas. It is said to balance the left and right brain hemispheres.
How to do it: see attached pdf
2. Kapalbhati - frontal brain cleansing
This breathing practice is a type of bellows breath but only the exhale is forcible. It may be performed at any time of day but only on an empty stomach 3-4 hours after a meal. The Sanskrit word Kapalbhati means “shining skull”. Kapalabhati is one of the 6 hatha yoga cleansing practices – to clear the mind. It is also a pranayama and is then done slightly differently.
How to do it - see attached pdf