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Just 3 Prāṇāyama Techniques In 27 Minutes To Boost Your Immunity During The Pandemic

During the current pandemic it is critical that we boost our immunity and mental well being. Just 3 Prāṇāyamas provide some solutions to all of that.


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The current Covid-19 pandemic has induced a global health revolution. The absence of a proven treatment and permanent vaccine to thwart the virus has made it critical for us to boost our immunity levels. In addition to this, the change in habits and life-style enforced by the pandemic has proliferated secondary ailments like stress, mental illness, depression, hypertension, etc. Prāṇāyama, an ancient system of yogic breathing techniques helps to tackle and alleviate all these ailments. 

Prāṇāyama

Prāṇāyama is a combination of two Sanskrit words “Prāṇa”, meaning Vital Life Force, and “Āyāma”, meaning extension or expansion. Alternatively, the second part of the word could also be “Yāma” meaning, control. Thus, Prāṇāyama means extension, expansion, and control of the vital life force through a system of regulated, Yogic breathing techniques. 

An ancient knowledge passed onto us, prāṇāyama seeks to harness and manipulate the universal life force to create physical and mental wellness within a person. In Prāṇāyama, one needs to inhale (Pūrak) and exhale (Rechak) or retain one’s breath after inhalation (Antara Kumbhaka) or exhalation (Bāhya Kumbhaka) as per a specific sequence – exercising control on the mind as one does so. 

General Benefits of Prāṇāyama

Prāṇāyama involves different breathing techniques that serve to supply our body with oxygen while removing toxins. It seeks to connect our body and soul (mind). This is meant to provide healing physiological benefits. Scientific studies show that there are multiple benefits of practicing prāṇāyama. The benefits can be classified into Physical, Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual. The 10 most important are listed below:

  1. Improves blood circulation and slows the heart rate.
  2. Augments respiratory functions.
  3. Enhances functions of internal organs.
  4. Reduces stress, confusion, hypertension, anxiety, depression, anger, headaches, and gastric problems.
  5. Improves the quality of sleep.
  6. It Burns extra fat.
  7. Boosts up immunity.
  8. Increases mindfulness and boosts cognitive performance.
  9. Improves emotional response through the stillness of mind.
  10. Provides a sense of calm, peace, and balance.

Practicing Prāṇāyama

Prāṇāyama should always be done on an empty stomach. However, it is okay to drink plain water before practice. The best time for prāṇāyama is early morning (at sunrise) after emptying the bowels or in the evening at dusk (minimum 3-4 hours after food). It is ideal to do it outdoors, where there is fresh air and if possible near a water body.

One needs to perform prāṇāyama sitting in a Yogic āsana on a rubber or woolen mat and never directly on the ground. Ideally, prāṇāyama should be done sitting in the Padmāsana or Siddhāsana posture; however other sitting postures like Ardha-Padmāsana, Sukhāsana, Vajrāsana or Swastikāsana can also be used. The hands should normally be placed on the knees in the chin or Jnāna mudrā.

After each prāṇāyama sequence, one should keep the eyes closed for some time and savor the sensations – the feelings of peace and tranquility that set in. The eyes should be opened after that and then 3 to 4 deep respirations should be taken before commencing the next routine. 

Precautions

Although generally practicing prāṇāyama is absolutely safe, nevertheless, one should seek the help of a trained practitioner or Guru for doing complex or difficult routines or techniques.  

Certain prāṇāyamas should not be practiced by people who suffer from high or low blood pressure, having chronic heart conditions or those recovering from a recent heart attack, menstruating or pregnant women, people with bronchitis or severe breathing issues or if they have to be practiced at all, then it should be done under the supervision of a guru. 

Also, it is not advised to practice any type of prāṇāyama when one is suffering from general ailments like flu, fever, stomach disorder, etc., in order to prevent aggravating the condition. The practice should be resumed only after the person fully recovers from the ailment. 

3 Prāṇāyamas for enhancing Immunity

There are 3 basic prāṇāyama techniques that must be practiced daily in order to build up one’s immunity and resistance to viral or bacterial attacks. They are (in order of sequence):

  1. 1 Bhasṭrikā (Bellows Breath) Prāṇāyama


    Procedure

    • Sit in Sukhāsana or Padmāsana with your spine straight. Rest both hands on your knees in Chin or Jnāna mudrā. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. 
    • Next, with your eyes closed, bring your focus to the Manipura chakrā or energy center (solar plexus - the area near the navel). Maintain your awareness of your breathing.
    • Inhale deeply and exhale forcefully through the nose, without any strain. Immediately, breathe in with the same force.
    • Inhale and exhale repeatedly, deeply, and methodically, using the muscles of the diaphragm with vigor. During inhalation, the diaphragm descends while the abdomen moves out. The opposite happens while exhaling.
    • The above movements should be slightly forced. A strong nasal sound will accompany such breathing. The movement should be regulated and rhythmic, and the speed should be maintained as per one’s capacity.
    • Practice Bhasṭrikā Prāṇāyama for a maximum of 3 minutes daily. Stop practice the moment any irritation or strain is felt. Beginners should practice for 1 to 2 minutes with a very slow rate of inhalation and exhalation. 

    Benefits:

    • This prāṇāyama has a favorable effect on the respiratory and digestive system and is an excellent immunity builder. 
    • It drains the sinuses and oxygenates the blood, increasing the vitality of all the organs and tissues. It also strengthens and tones the abdominal region. 
    • It removes intestinal wind and provides relief.
    • It alleviates headaches and is very effective for curing migraines.
    • It helps in controlling hyper or hypothyroidism.
    • It calms the mind and energizes the entire body and mind. However, too long a practice jeopardizes the lungs and tires the system, since the breathing process is so forceful.

    Precaution:

    People with heart ailments, very high or low BP, vertigo, pregnancy, intestinal disorders, spinal abnormalities, nasal bleeding, ear and eye ailments like pus in the ear, detached retina, glaucoma, etc., should not do this prāṇāyama.

  2. 2 Kapālabhāṭi (Forehead Shining) Prāṇāyama


    In Sanskrit, Kapāla means forehead and Bhāṭi’ means light, luster’ or shining. Therefore, Kapālabhāṭi means - that which shines or brings a glow to the forehead. In yoga, it is called Śaṭakarma or Śaṭkriyā and is a method of cleansing the body. Kapālbhāṭi involves voluntary abdominal breathing practiced with a focus on forceful exhalations. In Kapālabhāṭi Prāṇāyama, the inhalation is passive and slow while the exhalation is forceful - unlike Bhasṭrikā Prāṇāyama where both the inhalation and the exhalation are vigorous. Kapālabhāṭi helps to heighten energy in the body. 

    Procedure

    • Sit comfortably in padmāsana, siddhāsana, or sukhāsana with your spine erect. Adopt the Chin or Jnāna mudrā and place your hands on your knees.
    • Close your eyes and relax. Focus on the space between your eyebrows.
    • Inhale deeply through both nostrils while you expand the abdomen. Exhale forcefully by contracting the stomach muscles. As you exhale, pull in your stomach and navel towards the spinal cord. Do not strain
    • As you relax the navel and abdomen, passively expanding your abdominal muscles, the breath flows into your lungs involuntarily. Inhalation must be done spontaneously as a passive recoil, and without any effort. Your focus should only be on the forceful exhalation. 
    • After completing 10 such successive respirations, inhale and exhale deeply, observing the sensations in your body. This is one round. 
    • Practise 3 to 5 rounds to begin with. It is important the rapid breathing used in this technique be from the abdomen and not from the chest. The number of respirations may be increased from 10 to 20 as your abdominal muscles become stronger. Also, the number of rounds and the speed of respiration can be increased with time. Practicing Kapālabhāṭi for 10 to 15 minutes as you master the technique with time, provides immense benefits. 

    Benefits:

    • This prāṇāyama purifies the idā and Pingala nāḍis (subtle energy channels), improves mindfulness, provides mental energy and removes sleepiness as it eliminates sensory distractions from the mind. 
    • It energizes the nervous system and rejuvenates the brain cells. It has a cleansing effect on the lungs and respiratory system and is extremely beneficial for people with asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and emphysema. 
    • It enhances the metabolic rate and helps reduce weight. 
    • It enhances blood circulation and increases facial radiance. 
    • Kapālabhāṭi stimulates the abdominal organs and thus is extremely useful to those with diabetes and several abdominal ailments like gastritis and constipation. 
    • It causes the semen to rise up and cures many abnormalities.
    • It tones the digestive organs, improves absorption, and assimilation of nutrients, and results in a taut and trimmed down belly. 

    Precaution:

    Kapālabhāṭi should not be done by people who have an artificial pacemaker or stent, epilepsy, hernia, vertigo, stroke, backache due to slip disc, and have recently undergone abdominal surgery, or have a gastric ulcer. Women should not practice this prāṇāyama during and shortly after pregnancy as well as during menstruation as it involves vigorous abdominal squeezes. People with hypertension and heart problems should practice this breathing technique at a very slow pace or only under a yoga expert's guidance.

  3. 3 Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing) Prāṇāyama


    Anuloma Viloma, a form of alternate nostril breathing, is not only very popular but is considered to be the best form of prāṇāyama. The Sanskrit word Anuloma translates to “in the natural order” or “with the grain” and Viloma means inverted, inverse, opposite, or “against the grain”. This prāṇāyama is also called Nāḍī Śodhana prāṇāyama by some.

    Procedure

    • Sit comfortably in padmāsana, siddhāsana, or sukhāsana with your spine erect. Adopt the Chin or Jnāna mudrā and place your hands on your knees.
    • Close your eyes and relax. Focus on the space between your eyebrows.
    • Breathe out fully through both nostrils. 
    • Close the right nostril with the thumb of your right hand and breathe in slowly through the left nostril till the lungs are full of air. Next, close the left nostril using the middle and ring fingers of the right hand and exhale slowly and fully through the right nostril. Your lungs should be emptied of all air. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale deeply and slowly through the right nostril and fill your lungs. Now, close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand and empty your lungs by exhaling fully and slowly through your left nostril. This is one cycle. 
    • Repeat the cycle as explained above for at least 3 to 5 minutes.  If you feel tired, then take some rest between the cycles. With practice increase the force of inhalations and exhalations and extend the practice for 10 to 15 minutes. 

    Nāḍī Śodhana Prāṇāyama: Anuluma Viloma prāṇāyama can be extended to do the Nāḍī Śodhana prāṇāyama at advanced stages of practice. The Nāḍī Śodhana prāṇāyama involves doing Anṭara-kumbhaka (holding the breath after inhalation) and Bāhya-Kumbhaka (holding the breath after exhalation) for 5 to 10 seconds after each inhalation (purak) and exhalation (rechak) respectively, as per one’s capacity. Care should be taken that the length of the Anṭara-kumbhaka is always more than that of the Bāhya-Kumbhaka. Along with each kumbhaka, the Mūlbandha (Root lock) and Jalandhara Bandha (Throat lock) ought to be done at the same time. However, Nāḍī Śodhana should be limited to maximum of 5 minutes of practice and should be only done under the guidance of an expert or Guru.

    If this prāṇāyama is practiced regularly, it awakens the Kundalini Śakṭi (coiled energy) that resides in the Mūladhāra Chakra at the base of the spine.

    Benefits:

    The benefits of Anuloma Viloma prāṇāyama are numerous.

    • It cleanses all the nāḍis and this renders the body healthy, lustrous, and strong. 
    • It alleviates diseases like Rheumatism, Gout, and those pertaining to the urinary and generative organs. 
    • Chronic problems of sinus, cold, and cataracts, etc., are cured. It clears arterial blockages and improves blood circulation. 
    • This prāṇāyama energizes the mind, leads to positive thinking, and calms the mind. It helps in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases and cures diseases like blood pressure, constipation, gastric problems, depression, and respiratory problems. 
    • It helps with migraines, headaches, insomnia, sleep apnea, allergies, etc. 
    • It brings a calming effect to the brain and the heart and balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. 
    • Stress, anxiety, uneasiness, irritability, mood swings, anger, restlessness, etc., are reduced. 
    • It also brings clarity to the mind and improves concentration.
    • Benefits the skin by curing acne and dermatitis.
    • Improves vision and eyesight and prevents loss of vision.
    • It is extremely helpful in the management of asthma and mitigates wheezing.

    Precaution:

    Anuloma Viloma is considered absolutely safe for all if performed correctly. Patients suffering from chronic ailments like asthma, etc., and pregnant women are best advised to do the practice under expert supervision.

  4. 4 Śavāsana (Corpse Pose) or Yoga Nidrā


    Śavāsana is not a prāṇāyama but is a meditative resting or relaxation posture in Yoga. It is also called Yoga Nidrā. There are several levels of śavāsana but the preliminary level is described in this article. It is advisable to perform śavāsana for at least 5 to 10 minutes after completing practice of all prāṇāyamas or between two simultaneous yogāsana practices.   It is very easy to perform.

    Procedure:

    • Lie flat on your back on a rubber or woolen mattress. The arms should be about 15 cm away from the body, palms facing upward. Let the fingers curl slightly. The head and spine should be aligned such that they are in a straight line.
    • Keep the feet about a foot apart as per your comfort and close your eyes.
    • Make sure that the head does not fall to any side, either to the left or right.
    • Slowly take deep breaths and exhale 4 to 5 times.
    • Relax the entire body part by part, starting with the toes and move upward (Toes -> Ankles -> Calf -> Knees -> Thigh -> Pelvis, and so on till you reach your eyes -> forehead -> head). Stay your mind on a part till you feel that it is relaxed totally. Only then move upward to the next part. Finally, feel that all your body parts and organs are relaxed and stop all movement. 
    • Become aware of your breathing and allow it to become rhythmic and relaxed.
    • Bring your focus to the void between your eyebrows (ajnā chakra) and imagine your consciousness slipping away into a deep chasm. Allow your mind to forget all your worries – feel the tension disappear and allow yourself only to be blissful and happy. 
    • Linger on this blissful and ecstatic state for at least 5 minutes. However, the longer you stay in this state, the better you will feel. 
    • To come out of this state, take a very slow deep breath and exhale slowly. Bring your hands together and gently rub the palms against each other till they generate some heat. Now mildly caress your closed eyes with your palms and open your eyes.

    For a more relaxing experience, play some soft and calming instrumental music like a flute recital, in the background when you do perform śavāsana. 

    Benefits:

    • Śavāsana relaxes the whole psycho-physiological system.
    • It cures depression, hypertension, and is extremely beneficial for heart ailments, and sleeplessness. 
    • It removes negative thoughts and emotions, tiredness, and strengthens the nervous system.
    • It rests the body, mind, and soul and energizes both mind and body.

    Conclusion:

    Performing the three prāṇāyamas, Bhastrikā (2-3 minutes), Kapālbhāṭi (5-10 minutes), and Anuloma Vilioma (10 minutes), followed by Yoga Nidrā (10 minutes) daily have tremendous benefits for the mind and body. Apart from improving general health, well-being and boosting immunity levels, they also provide relief from stress, anger, depression, mental and physical fatigue. Their daily practice improves mindfulness, concentration, mental ability, thus providing a calm and peaceful state of mind which is of paramount importance to us during these troubled times.

    Caveat: The practice of prāṇāyama serves to mitigate various physical and mental conditions and ailments and improve general immunity. It is not suggested that they are in any manner, a substitute for regular medicines. For example, a person who suffers from hypertension must continue to consume the drugs prescribed to him or her even during the practice of prāṇāyama. Also, certain prāṇāyamas should not be practiced by people who are suffering from certain medical conditions or should be done under expert supervision. The article mentions some of the conditions, but the list is by no means extensive or exhaustive.


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