5 August 2016

pranayama for general health

So we have looked at pranayama for spirituality, but there are other ways to use pranayama, too. And because we have been seeing how bhastrika works for the internal fire, today we will look at it for health.

Bhastrika means "bellows". Bellows are a gadget which one moves to pump air into a fire, to fan the fire. To recap, bhastrika done with the emphasis around the navel region, will do exactly that. It will fan the inner fire, especially when it is done consistently. However, we can also use bhastrika to emphasise lung action, instead.

In a class, I will often have 1 or more selected poses to "force" air into particular areas of the lungs, such as a crosslegged spinal twist: often at the end of a class, we will do 10-20 bhastrikas whilst we are twisted to the right, then the same to the left, finishing with 1-2 rounds facing forwards. In this way, we have forced air predominantly into 1 side of the lungs with the twist. Sometimes I will do the final bhastrikas (facing forwards) emphasing the navel, but more often than not, I get people to visualise a square outline in front of the chest area, hold that image as you do the final bhastrikas, not the twists. This makes it more of a lung action, it's less of an abdominal pumping action, & is very effective. It sets up that bellows action in the lungs. I learnt this visualisation off Dr Swami Gitananda, over 40 years ago, he was an expert on pranayama. I find that it reduces mild lung inflammation.

Yoga teachers beware: do not teach pranayama to some who has chronic lung inflammation! When we have this condition, we are having great difficulty breathing, & to add pranayama is a great stressor. Sleep, rest & sun are more effective here.

Swami Gitananda said to only ever do 120 bhastrikas, or 120 kapalabhatis, or 120 of each, in one sitting. I feel that, for health purposes especially, to work up to these counts is not only doable...but also maintainable. Of course, you can also do less in a sitting.

I also do some bhastrikas: 5, 10 or 20, in a few poses at the start of a vigorous class, to get the energy going: tadasana up on toes with arms overhead..you can go up & down 3-5x first, & hold the last time whilst you do the bhastrikas, or just go up once & hold with bhastrika. Balance, one-pointedness & energy all at once. Priceless. Another is the chair poses...again, either do a few repetitions & hold, or do once & hold. Do the bhastrikas in this pose. Only teach what you know, & remember that it just doesn't work if you do bhastrikas willy-nilly in a class. Too much is silly.

Be consistent with how you teach. If you are doing repetitions then holding...then keep doing it throughout the class; if you are just holding poses, then keep doing that.

For a class where people are not used to doing pranayama...& also some of your students will not like doing pranayama, bhastrika can be very nicely done like this: do 6 left nostril, 6 right nostril, 6 both nostrils together. Do 3 only rounds. This is really nice.

For those who are prone to nose mucous, & sinus problems, teach students to do this each morning 1st thing, as a maintenance programme for those conditions: 6 right nostril; 6 left; 6 both; do 3 rounds. This is very effective & experience has taught me that it works. In this case, there is no need to add extra bhastrika. Adding more when there is this sort of tendency is not always productive.

Bhastrika stimulates & cleans. For health, using it higher, in the chest, it clears the lungs & stimulates better breathing. For spiritually, pumping to create an internal fire, this also stimulates brain activity. Our thoughts start to come to the surface, & it can be overwhelming. This is one of the reasons why it is essential to follow bhastrika with a balancing, calming pranayama.

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