Breathing for a Better Life

Feeling stressed out or sleep deprived? If so, fret not, as there are plenty of ways to calm your mind and body. One quick and effective solution is to incorporate some breathing exercises or pranayama into your daily routine. All it takes is less than 10 minutes of your time. Apart from being an excellent stress reliever, some research suggests that breathing exercises can increase life expectancy and are essential for healthy living.

According to yogic science, breathing exercises are known as pranayama. This Sanskrit word means ‘extension of life force’; prana means ‘breath or life force’ and ayama means ‘expansion’. Pranayama consists of a set of respiratory exercises that may be performed to maintain good physical and mental health. This breathing technique helps the body take in enough oxygen and release carbon dioxide and other toxins.

On the special occasion of the International Yoga Day, here are a few types of types of breathing exercises that can be practiced at home to reap a wide range of health benefits. 

KAPALBHATI- Among the various breathing techniques, kapalbhati is one of the most essential. Kapal means ‘Skull’ and bhati means ‘shining or illuminating’. This technique involves a series of short and powerful   inhalations and exhalations. 

How it’s done: Sit in padmasana and close your eyes while keeping your spine straight. Now inhale deeply through both nostrils, until your lungs are completely filled with air. Now exhale through both nostrils with great force, while drawing in your stomach. As you exhale you will feel some pressure in your stomach. Initially, start by doing this for 5 to 10 minutes, eventually increasing upto 15 minutes. 

Note: People with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke or epilepsy should not practice kapalbhati. Those with heart-related gastric problems can proceed with caution. 

    •    Kapalbhati improves blood circulation, slows the ageing process,
         and helps relax facial muscles. 
    •    Helps oxygenate your body while strengthening your abdominal and stomach muscles. 
    •    Reduces wrinkles by rejuvenating dead cells. 
    •    Improves digestion and clears sinus problems. 

NADI SHODHANA-Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing is another powerful breathing technique. Nadi means ‘subtle energy channel’ and shodhana means ‘clearing’ or ‘purification’. This technique is also known as anulom vilom pranayama. It is an excellent technique to calm and centre the mind. 

How it’s done: Sit comfortably with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. Rest your left plam on your left knee, place your right hand on your nose. Using the right thumb, close the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril. With the right nostril open, inhale slowly then close it with the thumb. Open and exhale through the left nostril. Repeat this technique about five to 10 times. Finally, place your right hand on your right knee and come to a relaxed position. 

Note: Advanced pranayama should be done in the guidance of a skilled teacher. Do not practice this technique if you suffer from shortness of breath or high blood pressure. 

    •    Reduces stress and anxiety. Helps relieve headaches and migraines. 
    •    Helps balance the brain’s right and left hemispheres. 
    •    Good for circulatory and respiratory problems. 
    •    Maintains body temperature.  

SAMA VRITTI-Sama vritti or ‘equal breathing’ is a soothing and a calming breathing technique. As the name suggests, it is an equal-ratio breathing technique, where in the length of inhalation and exhalation are the same. 

How it’s done: Sama vritti pranayama is a simple technique. Find a comfortable seated position that elevates the hips above the knees. After you settle, begin to notice your natural inhalation and exhalation. Then, start to count your inhalation. Breathe in gently for four steady counts, and then breathe out for four steady counts. Continue this process for about 10 minutes. 

    •    Reduces stress and helps concentration.  
    •    Calms the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. 
    •    Improves will power and discipline. 
    •    Deepens lung capacity and keeps you energetic throughout the day.     

-Akhila Kakarala,,