Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pranayama for a Tranquil Life!

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(This is the recently published article of Dr Shreya Deshpande in Whole Life Times, California)

We all know how important it is to include some physical activity in our daily life, but it’s just as important to know how to relax. Controlling our breathing can help us to maintain tranquility amidst the daily hubbub of activity.

This control over breathing is termed pranayama, with techniques rooted in ancient Indian literature. Even someone who does not connect to the spiritual aspect of pranayama can appreciate the satisfaction it provides through tapping into the subconscious. Pranayama also offers health benefits to those suffering from such problems as hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, nervousness, anxiety, depression and obesity.

For daily performance of pranayama, experts recommend five steps that prove exceedingly beneficial when performed daily. But before starting, the following must be observed:

1. Empty your bowels.
2. Sit erect in cross-legged posture.
3. Choose a peaceful and well-ventilated place.

Bhasrika. After focusing his mind on pranayama, the sadhaka (one who practices pranayama) performs a deep breathing exercise called bhasrika. In this, he inhales deeply through both nostrils while exerting little pressure, and exhales forcefully yet slowly. This breathing form should be continued for 2–5 minutes. Bhasrika is specifically useful for various nervous system malfunctions, cardiac abnormalities, skin diseases and so on. Even mental and emotional disharmonies can be eradicated with regular bhasrika pranayama.

Kapalabhati. Often called “breath of fire,” or “energizing breath,” this is usually the next step after the initial bhasrika. The sadhaka inhales normally but exhales forcefully while taking his abdomen (navel) upward and inward. This should be done in quick succession. Experts recommend 60 cycles of kapalabhati in 60 seconds, that is, one minute. It is very useful to perform this pranayama daily for 5 to 10 minutes. It boosts the metabolism, fresh and refreshes the energy, and is very useful for hypertension, diabetes, depression, Parkinson’s, asthma and snoring. It is also one of the principal pranayama steps for reducing extra fat deposits in the body.

Bahya. This step should only be performed once it is learned properly. Sit relaxed. Breathe in deeply while pulling in the abdomen. Hold your breath and abdomen in, while tucking your chin into your chest and pulling your gluteal and pelvic muscles inward. All these actions should happen at one time. Be in this manner for 2 to 10 seconds (increasing slowly), and then slowly exhale and sit erect normally. Bahya pranayama is one of the best remedies for constipation and abdominal troubles, as it gently massages the abdominal organs. It also helps with irregular bowel movements, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and problems pertaining to the uterus and ovaries.

AgnisarAgnisar involves performing all the steps of bahya pranayama except for pulling in the gluteal and pelvic muscles. As you breathe in deeply while holding your abdomen in, and tuck your chin into your chest, retain your breath as you move your abdomen inward and outward in rhythm. Perform 10 to 20 such movements (increasing slowly), and then relax. Like bahya pranayama, agnisar massages the internal organs and maintains a healthy rate of metabolism. People with high waist-hip ratio should perform this step to reduce the abdominal circumference, thus reducing the risk of future cardiac and renal difficulties. One who performs agnisar daily never suffers from constipation or bowel dysfunction. It is a cleansing action.

Anulom vilom. Sit erect in cross-legged posture. First breathe in and out slowly for some time. Now put your thumb on the right nostril, close it with it, and inhale slowly through the left nostril. Once you complete the inhalation, remove the finger from right nostril and close the left nostril with your ring finger. Then slowly exhale through the right nostril. Now the same procedure is to be repeated on the other side. Perform this step for 5 to 15 minutes. Also known as alternate-nostril breathing, Anulom vilom is considered one of the best exercises for arteries, veins and the circulatory system. Experts attest to its usefulness in eradicating atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis and simpler complaints like insomnia. Once these basic things are controlled, the sadhaka gains more control over his body, mind and psyche.
There are other steps of pranayama, but at least these first five should be performed daily to help you function at your tranquil best.