pranayama practice

Kapalabhati Pranayama Practice

   I check in with my breath during my interactions throughout the day as it helps me decide whether I am calm or triggered into anxiety or fear in some way. Doing the check-in allows me to collect my thoughts, to be more compassionate towards others, and to see if the tension I may be feeling in dialogue with others is coming from them or me. I do a pranayama practice at the beginning or end of my asana practice. During my first pranayama experience as a stand-alone to set a pranayama practice only and assess its effects on my being. I chose Kapalabhati Pranayama (an active exhale and passive inhale in rounds of 50-100 repetitions) for my practice to do daily for five minutes for fifteen days. Eight days into this journey, I needed to add in Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (inhale left nostril, exhale right nostril, inhale right nostril, exhale left nostril repeating) because I was on fire.

   For me, Kapalabhati Pranayama brought awareness to my Swadhisthana and Manipura Chakras, and I could feel this energy rising in my body until I had a reasonably light feeling about myself. This high would then level off after I had finished the practice bringing me into a calm state. Overall, I found this exercise fun as I had to laugh at myself when I started to get into my head or overthink the practice. My rhythm would no longer be natural and flow with ease. Kapalabhati was teaching me a lesson about letting go and flowing with the present moment. Around days four through eight, I noticed slight fevers in my body. I assumed that I was burning off old memories and beliefs stuck in my tissues in my lower chakras of Muladhara, Swadhisthana, and Manipura. I found this intriguing and allowed my body to heal as it needed to. When I went for my monthly energy healing at the end of my session, my healer asked what I had been doing because I had a blazing fire that she worked on in my Swadhisthana and Manipura Chakras. I laughed and told her about my practice, and she suggested that I be mindful of what might be coming up. Now I am getting into this breath.

 I have seen Kapalabhati called many different things such as a breath of fire, skull shining breath, and cleansing breath, and I seem to be experiencing them all. The fire burning in my lower chakras, the lightness and calm in my skull, and I am confident that both of these things happening in my body are cleansing it of old patterns while embracing new ones. After recently recovering from double pneumonia (a cause from dealing with deep grief in my personal life, 2015), my ego was hurt because I could not breathe deeply, and I had prided myself on my full breath. It was something that I consciously worked at for years. After being in a back brace for a decade, it took me a long time to feel my breath and to break up that fascia, so to see it leave me, I was hurt and found myself questioning its trust. See, inspiration teaches me about faith. I am confident that the in-breath will always be there, but now I was not sure as it felt as though I was sucking air through a straw. This mindful practice of just five minutes a day of doing Kapalabhati was helping me to regain my trust in my lungs again. I could feel my breath getting more profound, and it was filling me with joy.

   On day eight, I started to add three to five minutes of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama because the fire in my lower chakras was getting pretty intense and uncomfortable. At times so much heat built that I could feel tears manifesting, not fully understanding the source of sadness but allowing the process to unfold, knowing I would be lighter in my journey for letting go. I only focus on bringing my pita down in line with my other doshas, but now I realize that I need to pay more attention to my Vata qualities (I am a pita/Vata). See, my Vata qualities either seem to blaze my pitta characteristics to a fiery inferno, or it puts my fire out entirely. I realize that I am all three doshas and that I strive for a balance between them. The skin irritation on my face seems slightly better (day ten). Could this be from the combination of Nadi Shodhana balancing my hormones and the cleansing aspects of Kapalabhati? At this point, my mind is getting bored with the practice as I am about ten days in, so I start to add in different body positions during the Kapalabhati portion of the breath. I did things like sitting in an easy seated pose, being in twisting lunge/warrior, placing a ball under in my armpit and squeezing it between my arm and ribcage, putting a ball on the side of my neck, and squeezing it between the neck and the arm, doing a seated twist, etc. The ball allowed me to explore the depth of the breath three-dimensionally with more awareness.

My mental and emotional state appears to be more resilient as things seem to be rolling off my back better. But more interesting to me is that I have a greater awareness of separation when interacting with others. Such as I can see their stuff, my stuff, and instead of owning both of our stuff, I can honor and acknowledge the separation of lessons that need to be learned. Another exciting interaction with others was when I taught my annual pranayama workshop to clients at the studio. I love Kapalabhati breath for strengthening and toning the diaphragm and abdominal muscles and the energizing feeling it leaves in my mind. I found it amusing when some clients shared that their breath is exhausted (I suspected that their core was weak as these were two new customers) they and they felt tired doing it- it was a good reminder that what I believe in my practice is not always what others think.

   I felt the benefits of both of these breaths as they helped ground and awaken the pranamaya kosha (energetic body) and clear away obstructions inhibiting my flow of pranayama. I now fully understand the empowerment that a pranayama practice alone can bring to my lifestyle. The benefits that I experienced in doing these practices were enlightening. Kapalabhati’s gifts that I experienced were:

Cleansing lungs and respiratory system.

Strengthening and toning the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.

Energizing and clearing the mind.

Warming the body.

Nadi Shodhana’s benefits that I experienced were reduced stress and anxiety, calming, balancing hormones, and fostering mental clarity and alertness in my mind.

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