BHASTRIKA PRANAYAM

Preparatory practice:

Sit in any comfortable meditation posture, preferably padmasana, ardha padmasana or siddha/ siddha yoni asana, with the hands resting on the knees in either chin or jnana mudra.

Keep the head and spine straight, close the eyes and relax the whole body.

Take a deep breath in and breathe out forcefully through the nose. Do not strain.

Immediately afterwards breathe in with the same force.

During inhalation the diaphragm descends and the abdomen moves outward. During exhalation the diaphragm moves upward and the abdomen moves inward.

The above movements should be slightly exaggerated.

Continue in this manner, counting 10 breaths.

At the end of 10 breaths, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly.

This is one round.

Practise up to 5 rounds.

Keep the eyes closed and concentrate on the breathing and the counting.

 

Practice note: When accustomed to this style of breathing, gradually increase the speed, always keeping the breath rhythmical.

Inhalation and exhalation must be equal. 


Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath)

Sit in any comfortable meditation asana, preferably padmasana, ardha padmasana or siddha/siddha yoni asana, with the hands resting on the knees in either chin or jnana mudra.

Keep the head and spine straight. Close the eyes and relax the whole body.

Raise the right hand and perform nasagra mudra. 
 
Left nostril: Close the right nostril with the thumb. Breathe in and out forcefully, without straining, through the left nostril 10 times. Count each breath mentally. The abdomen should expand and contract rhythmically with the breath. The pumping action should be performed by the abdomen alone. Do not expand the chest or raise the shoulders. The body should not jerk. There should be a snuffing sound in the nose but no sound should come from the throat or chest. After 10 respirations, breathe in deeply through the left nostril keeping the right nostril closed. Fill the lungs as much as possible, expanding both the chest and abdomen. Close both nostrils and hold the breath inside. Retain the breath for a few seconds. Exhale through the left nostril.

 

Right nostril: Close the left nostril and breathe in and out forcefully 10 times through the right nostril, counting each time. Inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril. Close both nostrils and hold the breath inside. Retain the breath for a few seconds. Breathe out slowly through the right nostril.

 

Both nostrils: Open both nostrils. Breathe in and out forcefully through both nostrils 10 times, mentally counting each time. Inhale slowly and deeply through both nostrils. Close both nostrils and retain the breath for a few seconds. Breathe out slowly through both nostrils together. Breathing through the left, the right and both nostrils, as above, forms one complete round.

 

Breathing: Bhastrika may be practised at three different breath rates: slow, medium and fast, depending on the capacity of the practitioner. Slow bhastrika is practised to approximately one breath every two seconds, with no undue force on inhalation or exhalation. It is like amplified normal breathing. It is especially useful for beginners and those using bhastrika for therapeutic purposes, although it may also be practised at all stages. Medium bhastrika increases the speed of respiration to approximately one breath every second. Fast bhastrika means a breathing speed of around two breaths per second. Both medium and fast breathing are suitable for intermediate and advanced practitioners. The abdominal muscles will become stronger with regular practice. As they do so, the number of respirations may be increased by 5 per month from the initial count of 10 to a maximum count of 40 to 50 respirations through the left, the right and both nostrils.

 

Duration: Up to 5 rounds. Slowly increase the duration of retention up to 30 seconds after breathing through the left, the right and both nostrils. Do not strain.

 

Awareness:

Physical - on the breathing process, the physical movement of the abdomen and mental counting.

Spiritual - on manipura chakra.

 

Precautions: A feeling of faintness, excessive perspiration or a vomiting sensation indicates that the practice is being performed incorrectly. Avoid violent respiration, facial contortions and excessive shaking of the body. If any of these symptoms are experienced, the advice of a yoga teacher should be sought. This practice is ideal for purifying the blood and eradicating a bad complexion. However, if the stages are rushed, all the impurities will be ejected from the body in a rush which may exacerbate the condition. A slow, conscientious approach to this practice is, therefore, recommended. Bhastrika is a dynamic practice requiring a large expenditure of physical energy. Beginners are advised to take a short rest after each round.

 

Contra-indications: Bhastrika should not be practised by people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, hernia, gastric ulcer, stroke, epilepsy or vertigo. Those suffering from lung diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, 
or who are recovering from tuberculosis, are recommended to practise only under expert guidance.

 

Benefits: This practice burns up toxins and removes diseases of the doshas or humours: kapha, phlegm; pitta, bile; and vata, wind. Because of the rapid exchange of air in the lungs, there is an increase in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of the bloodstream. This stimulates the metabolic rate, producing heat and flushing out wastes and toxins. The rapid and rhythmic movement of the diaphragm also massages and stimulates the visceral organs, toning the digestive system. It is a useful practice for women during labour after a few months of proper preparation. Bhastrika reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the lungs. It is an excellent practice for asthmatics and those suffering from other lung disorders. It alleviates inflammation in the throat and any accumulation of phlegm. It balances and strengthens the nervous system, inducing peace, tranquillity and onepointedness of mind in preparation for meditation.

 

Advanced practice: Once this practice has been mastered, jalandhara and moola bandha may be combined during each internal breath retention or after each round.

 

Practice note: Both nostrils must be clear and flowing freely. Mucus blockages may be removed through the practice of neti (see the section Shatkarma). If the flow of breath in the nostrils is unequal, it may be balanced by practising padadhirasana as a breath balancing technique (see chapter Vajrasana Group of Asanas). Beginners should be familiar with abdominal breathing before taking up bhastrika. 

 

Note: The Sanskrit word bhastrika means 'bellows'. Thus, bhastrika pranayama is also known as the bellows breath, as air is drawn forcefully in and out of the lungs like the bellows of a village blacksmith. The bellows increases the flow of air into the fire, producing more heat. Similarly, bhastrika pranayama increases the flow of air into the body to produce inner heat at both the physical and subtle levels, stoking the inner fire ofmind/body.