Breathing for Strength
So few in India, where yoga’s roots dig in deep, actually utilize the posture practices of yoga that has made it so popular in the West. Many in the East see yoga as devotional in nature (similar to the way Americans view churches and temples) and the norm is not to do formal practices other than meditation or prayer.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and is generally known to be the understanding of the subtle energies of the body through the use of the breath. Many Indians do formalize their practices to include pranayama — many more do this than the postures with which we are familiar. Kapalabhati breathing, or the “Breath of Fire” is known to be very beneficial in strengthening muscle memory for proper breathing. In so doing, the abdominal cavity is cleansed and toned, circulation increases, and the “fire” of digestion is strengthened.
With all of these items in play, metabolism increases, happy hormones are released and life is just generally better. A great happy-fication practice with only great happy-fying side effects!
“Breath of Fire” Breathing Exercise:
Sit upright in a comfortable position, on the floor with your legs crossed in front of you. Lift your tailbone off the floor by sitting upright with your belly pulled in and spine long and tall. Relax your hips and shoulders — all of this work is done with the belly and back muscles, not with hips or shoulders.
Inhale deeply and exhale fully, “crunching” the abdominal cavity at the very end. Then repeat the last pump of that crunch beginning with 4 repetitions of 27 Kapalabhati breaths. To understand this better, the inhale is needed and should be taken, but not at all emphasized. The attempt is at keeping the low belly drawing in and pumping on a rhythm that you create, about one second apart. It’s like doing upright crunches and you should feel engagement in the entire front of the abdominal wall, especially in the area below the navel.
Veteran Yogi and instructor Lyndsay Bahn, of Jyotishmati Yoga Shala of Chapel Hill, NC, says “This kind of a practice, done a few times a week, improves the strength of the abdomen and the digestive fire through the empowerment of the use of our own will. It’s like a devotional crunch and cleanse meditation.”
It’s always recommended to learn breath work from a practiced and experienced teacher, so though this exercise is suggested for everyone, except for pregnant women, it’s a great idea to check out a yoga school near you that teaches this practice. You never know — the happy-fication of you could include your newest pilates or yoga instructor!
No matter how you choose to do it, work up to 3–4 rounds of 108 and watch the happy-fication continue!