If you are on the East Coast you are likely experiencing unexpected cold and looking for ways to stay warm as you move through your day. Now just may be the perfect time to start a practice of warming pranayama.
What is pranayama? Prana means breath sustaining the body. Ayama can be translated to extension or drawing out. Together the two are the extension or control of the breath. Most all yoga classes and practices include some sort of breath practice throughout to assist with the physical (asana) postures. Pranayama practices can, however, be a sustained practice on their own with many positive benefits.
What are some of the benefits? Different pranayama breaths and practices can act to warm or cool the body, raise or lower blood pressure and can aid the body and mind to relaxation or can be used to stimulate the body and mind. Additional focus and clearer thinking are also benefits of breath work. Warming breaths, such as those being introduced here, can assist and aid with:
- Alleviate coughs, sneezes, sniffles, cold symptoms, throat discomfort
- Remove air (vata) from the joints to lessen joint stiffness and pain
- Increases gastric juices moving through the stomach
- Lowers blood pressure and with sustained, long-term practice can be a factor in helping to lower high blood pressure permanently
Who can benefit from pranayama practices? Pretty much everyone can benefit from the practice of pranayama.
- However, more advanced practices should be practiced with the care of a skilled teacher and under the advisement of a doctor.
- All practices should be discontinued immediately if lightheadedness, tingling or pain is experienced.
When to practice? Pranayama can be practiced any time of day, though most techniques are best practiced on an empty stomach in the morning or in the evening before bed. Depending on the technique pranayama can be incorporated into physical activities such as yoga, and in times of rest, during meditation, for example.
Warming pranayama can be especially beneficial to the body in cold weather. Below are three easy techniques to get you started.
Ujjayi Breath: A practice common to yoga classes, this breath helps warm you from the inside out.
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes. Let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
- Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
- On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Softly whisper the sound, “ahhh,” as you exhale. Imagine your breath fogging up a window.
- As you become comfortable with your exhalations, maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out, like ocean waves.
- Repeat this 2-5 minutes, building, over time to 15 minutes.
Lion’s Breath: A fun breath that often feels a bit silly to perform, this is a great technique for relieving stress and tension in the face and chest. It improves circulation of blood to the face, can help prevent sore throat, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes. Place your fingers, spread wide, on the knees.
- Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Simultaneously open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out (pointing toward the chin) and open your eyes wide.
- Contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct “ha” sound.
- Repeat this 3-5 times, noting it is ok to feel silly and to giggle or laugh as you practice this breath.
Nadi Shodina: Nadi Shodina, a balancing breath, is a great breath to support the lungs and respiratory functions. It restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain and rejuvenates the nervous system.
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes.
- Relax your left palm on your lap. Bring your right hand to the face, placing your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
- Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
- Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
- Inhale through the right side slowly.
- Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
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