You've likely heard the phrase "breath is life" before. And it's true. That's why we practice pranayama or breathwork. Today, our focus is on Kriya pranayama which is part of the ancient Kriya yoga system revived by Mahavatar Babaji around 1861 through Babaji's follower Lahiri Mahasaya. It was then pushed to international attention with the publication of Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi.
Kriya pranayama offers several benefits. First, it teaches us the proper way to breathe through slow, deep breathing. It can help increase your lung capacity, reduce toxins in the body, aid digestion, improve metabolism, calm and soothe the nervous system, reduce stress, and a host of other things that will improve the quality of your life.
As a matter of fact, pranayama meditation benefits aren't limited to Kriya! There are many ways breathwork brings healing to the body mind and soul. Pranayama yoga:
And literally anyone can enjoy kriya yoga benefits. Breathwork and meditation is accessible and can be practiced almost anywhere! At work, home, your car, a park bench or the ground. This form of selfcare requires no more space than the space your body takes up.
Kriya Yoga focuses on the reciprocal relationship between breath and mind. The belief is that breath control is self-control. In the practice of this Kriya yoga technique we're sharing with you today, we'll start with a simple pranayama preparation before moving into specific kriya pranayama techniques. While we finish this practice with a 30-minute Pranic Energization Technique, we won't be including that in this article.
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Sit in a meditative posture—Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Siddhasana (Perfect Pose), Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), etc.—keeping your head, neck, and spine in line. Shoulders are relaxed and rolled back and down. Place your palms on your knees or your thighs. Draw your chin in towards your chest slightly, and gaze down at the floor.
Close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing. Just observe your natural breathing for a few moments.
Now, we'll move into Ujjayi pranayama. Ujjayi is "victorious" breath and is a balancing pranayama.
Start by bringing your chin to your chest in Jalandhara bandha, or chin lock. Roll your tongue in your mouth, the lower part of your tongue should touch the upper palate. Don't force it, just rest comfortably.
Bring your focus to the back of your throat. Breathe in and out through your nose, producing a sound like the ocean with your breath. Again, there's no need to force the sound. If it comes, it comes. Breathe oceanic breaths for a few minutes.
Join your palms at your heart center in namaste. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale chant Om. We'll complete this three times, total, followed by a Kriya pranayama yoga meditation prayer:
Om Sahana Vavatu (May we be protected together)
Sahanau Bhunaktu (May we be nourished together)
Saha Viryam Karavavahai (May we create strength among one another)
Tejasvi Navaditamastu (May our study be filled with brilliance and light)
Ma Vidvishavahai (May there be no hostility between us)
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi (Om peace, peace, peace)
Exhale and bow down over your hands. Inhale, come back up. Namaste.
Kapalbhati is a Kriya yoga breathing technique that involves cleansing. It can be practiced in two ways, one of which is a basic variation that has no limitations—anyone can practice it. In this variation, we focus on the throat and a rapid and forceful inhale and exhale through the nose 50 times for three rounds.
The traditional variation of Kriya yoga meditation shouldn't be practiced if you are pregnant or menstruating, have high blood pressure, abdominal inflammation, ulcers, hernia, heart ailments, epilepsy, or if you're a child under the age of 12. This variation is focused on abdominal movement and forceful exhalation, 50 times for three rounds.
Don't force it. If you're just starting out with breathwork, you're welcome to limit the inhale/exhale cycles to 10–20 per round.
If you'd like, you can place a palm on your abdomen to feel the movement as you breathe. At the end of each round, tuck your chin to your chest and hold your breath for a count of 10 before returning to normal breathing for a few moments.
Kapalbhati is a Kriya yoga technique that generates heat in the body, energizes the nervous system, releases toxins from the body, and is a great practice for those suffering from hyper-acidity.
This practice has several benefits. It can relieve pain from headaches and migraines, reduce stress and anxiety, calm the nervous system, improve circulation, increase oxygen flow to the brain, and more.
To do it, place your thumbs at either side of your temples and use your fingers to massage the sinus points in your forehead:
Now, pinch your eyebrows along their length a few times.
Then, with your middle and ring fingers, massage your cheeks moving down the sides of your nose, out towards your ears, and upward. Repeat this several times.
With your index and middle fingers, massage the sides of your face and behind your ears. Repeat several times.
Next, alternate your hands, moving your fingers across your mouth area, repeating several times.
Look up towards the ceiling and use your palms to massage your neck with upward strokes.
Finally, put your little fingers in your ears and rotate clockwise and anti-clockwise.
This pranayama cleanses and detoxifies the body, expels toxins, strengthens the abdominal muscles, improves respiratory capacity, and strengthens your overall system to improve immunity.
Dog breathing has the same limitations as the traditional variation of Kapalbhati, so be sure to exercise caution.
Start in Vajrasana, leaning slightly forward and resting your hands on your knees. Open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out as far as it can go. Start panting as a dog pants. Each time you exhale, be sure to contract your stomach.
You'll do two rounds of 30 seconds each.
While dog breathing focuses on the abdominals, rabbit breathing is more about the thoracic region. Rabbit breathing is calming and allows you to catch your breath, making it especially beneficial for those with asthma. It’s recommended for people with diabetes and nasal allergies, but not for those with epilepsy or high blood pressure.
Start in Vajrasana and bend forward with your elbows and forearms on the mat in front of you. Keep your head, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. Partially open your mouth and stick out your tongue so the tip of your tongue touches your bottom lip. Breathe rapidly and continuously for two rounds of 30–40 breaths.
After each round, relax into Sasangasana (Rabbit pose). Return to Vajrasana.
Mandukasana helps open your hip joints, reducing strain on your needs, as well as improving abduction, strengthening your lower back, and aiding digestion. Limitations are the same as Kapalbhati and also include eye disorders. If you have any of these limitations, you can sit in Vajrasana and practice equal breathing (deep inhalations, deep exhalations).
For this breathing exercise, you won't be going fully into Mandukasana. Instead, you'll keep your knees and feet in Vajrasana position. Move into the pose and breathe for five counts before returning to Vajrasana. You'll complete five rounds of this.
Before moving on, move into a counterpose (intense stretch) for a count of five:
Pranic Energization Technique is an advanced technique that utilizes our prana shakti to bring energy to the entire body. This practice brings vitality and strength into every organ of our body.
We'll practice this technique for about 30 minutes, using a variety of breathing techniques like Brahmari (bee breath) during which you make a buzzing sound. Brahmari is a wonderful breathing practice that can help lower blood pressure, soothe the nervous system, stimulate the pineal and pituitary glands, dissipate anger, help you sleep, and more.
We'll also do Nadi Shuddhi (alternate nostril breathing) using the right hand in Vishnu Mudra:
Nadi Shuddhi is a great technique to calm the mind and bring it back to the present, improve circulatory and respiratory problems, aid in relaxation, purify and balance the nadis (energy channels), and harmonize the right and left sides of the brain, among other benefits.
During the meditation, there are a few things we will be doing to experience the prana. You will sometimes be asked to bring your hands to namaste and move them slowly apart and back together. You will also be asked to hold your hands with palms facing each other and move them clockwise or anti-clockwise. Here's what those movements look like:
Choose a meditative posture that you can maintain for 30 minutes. If you want to lie down in Savasana, that's fine, too.
We'll start with the Pranayama yoga prayer:
Pranasyedam Vase Sarvam Tridivee Yath Prathishtitham
Maateva Putraan Rakshasva Shrischa Pragnascha Videhinaam Ithi
Whatever exists in the three worlds is all under the control of Prāna.
(O Prāna) protect us as a mother protects her sons; give us affluence and intelligence.
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