The practice of pranayama or ‘breathwork’ as it’s also known, is an integral part of yoga, and something that has actually existed far longer than the physical postures. Pick up a copy of the Hatha Yoga Pradipikaor Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha and you’ll notice there’s a lot more attention given to the specifics of breathing and movement of prana than there is in most modern yoga books or classes. The reason? Prana means ‘life force’, just as qi does in the Traditional Chinese Medicine context. The primary yoga practices were concerned mainly with this flow of energy above all else. Everything we do from moving to eating, sleeping, socialising, and studying has an effect upon our life force. And when it comes to breathing, it’s a powerful way to work with prana.
Whilst the UK Summer can be a little unpredictable, it’s likely we’ll all experience a bout of steamy hot and humid days wherever you happen to live. From an ayurvedic perspective, the summer season holds the qualities of heat, moisture, intensity, transformation and passion – all qualities of the Pitta dosha. This means we’re all a little more likely to feel hot and bothered, intensely driven and focused, and generally a little more fiery than usual. Utilising these specific pranayama practices not only keeps the body physically cool and balanced during hot weather, but it also cools and calms the mind. Whether you’re working or on vacation, indoors or out, these three practices are simple to use when you need them.
1. Sitali breath
Sitali means ‘cooling’ or ‘soothing’, and is a method that may look a little strange, but is incredibly effective. Much like animals do, this pranayama technique works by passing the breath over the tongue and cooling the body from the inside.
To practise: Curl the tongue and inhale the breath as though you were sucking air through a straw, hold for a moment then exhale slowly through the nose. Continue for a couple of minutes then drink a glass of cool water to enhance the soothing effects. If you’re not able to curl your tongue, simply stick it out and feel the breath passing over the tongue as you inhale.
2. Chandra Bhedana
This ‘moon piercing’ or ‘moon activating’ breath works on the subtle energy channel of ida, the feminine nadi to the left of the spine. Chandra Bhedana is especially soothing for the nervous system, and is great to practise in the evening before bed, or if you’re feeling frustrated or irritable.
To practise: Close off the right nostril and breathe in and out slowly through the left nostril for 3 minutes. To enhance the practice, visualise a silver crescent moon reflecting over cool water.
3. Pranayama With Visualisation
Adding visualisation to your breathwork practices is a valuable way to cultivate a calm and quiet yet focused and creative mind. If you have difficultly meditating, this can also be an effective way to get started.
To practise: Lie on your back comfortably and breathe slowly in and out through the nose. As you inhale, feel a cool white light travelling up the body from the feet to the top of the head. As you exhale, feel the cool white light travel back down the body. With each round of breathing, imagine the feeling of the cool white light calming, soothing and cooling your body and mind more and more. Practice for 3-5 minutes and end with the exhale returning to the feet to ground yourself.
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