Learn Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath)


Would you like to boost your energy? Banish the morning doldrums? Turn those afternoon slumps into a distant memory? Strengthen your immune and nervous systems while stoking your digestive fire? The solar plexus is the hub of power and light, and a steady blaze here is the source of good health as well as success in both worldly and spiritual pursuits. Yoga offers a variety of techniques for fanning the fire, all focusing on the navel center. One of the most straightforward is a breathing practice called bhastrika, or bellows breathing.

Just as a bellows draws in air and pushes it across glowing coals to generate more heat, bhastrika uses the action of the abdominal muscles and diaphragm to draw air in and out of the lungs, generating heat in the body by squeezing blood through the digestive organs, toning the liver, spleen, stomach, and pancreas, and increasing digestive capacity.

As you do, your stamina, enthusiasm, and sense of well-being will increase.

This is a vigorous practice, entailing a series of active inhalations and exhalations. Start slowly—at the rate of one breath per second—and limit yourself to 3 rounds of 7 to 10 breaths, taking a series of relaxed breaths between rounds. When you can increase the speed without losing the force or evenness of your breath, gradually work up to two breaths per second and 120 breaths per round. As you do, your stamina, enthusiasm, and sense of well-being will increase.

The yogis say that a sustained practice of bhastrika brings mastery over the energy flow in the body. Do it two or three times a day for a year and see if they’re right.

The Practice

Sit in a steady, comfortable posture with the spine straight. Take a few deep, even breaths, letting the abdomen expand as you inhale. When you’re ready to begin, exhale by contracting the abdominal muscles quickly and forcefully and follow it with a quick diaphragmatic inhalation, letting the abdominal muscles relax completely.

The challenge here is to coordinate the action of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles so the air moves in and out of the lungs quickly: As the abdominal muscles relax at the end of an exhalation, the diaphragm actively contracts to begin the inhalation; as the diaphragm begins to release its contraction after the peak of inhalation, the abdominal muscles immediately contract. It will take time and attention to coordinate these movements. Both the exhalation and inhalation will be audible, and the goal is to make them equal in both duration and force.

Work with this practice two or three times a day, always on an empty stomach. Bhastrika increases intra-abdominal pressure and may not be appropriate for women during menstruation or pregnancy or for anyone with an ulcer, hiatal hernia, chronic constipation, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

The prolonged practice of bhastrika energizes every atom of the body. It sets the entire system in motion and purifies it, thus awakening higher powers. —Swami Rama

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