Establish Balance This Spring Through Pranayama
The Seasonal transition (in sanskrit Rutu Sandhi) offers many obstacles when it comes to maintaining balance within our bodies. Spring may be Characterized by Kapha dosha but as the weather patterns become variable and unpredictable there is a spike in Vata. In addition, the hot cold alternation and constant adjusting can aggravate Pitta. So what can we do to find equilibrium within our variable external environment?
Pranayama is a practice of breath control and awareness. Prana (as breath) is our vital life force. Pranayama involves various kinds of practices and works to balance the body, mind, and spirit in beneficial ways. During Pranayama we focus on the breath, working to strengthen one’s ability to maintain awareness and mental stability. Much like mindfulness meditation practice we keep our attention on the breath, bring the mind back to center and focus each time it wanders. It has proven benefits for mental/emotional conditions like depression and anxiety and has been shown to lower blood pressure, benefit respiratory disorders, alleviate pain among other numerous evidence-based benefits.
During each seasonal transition, it’s a good practice to add or modify pranayama in our daily routine. There are many different kinds of Pranayama but today we shall focus on Kapalabhati, Sheetali and Nadi Shodhana, which respectively balance Kapha, Pitta, and Vata doshas.
Kapalbhati (Skull Shining Breath)
Kapalabhati, also known as skull shining breath, is the practice of naturally allowing inhales and forcefully exhaling in shorts burst through your nostrils. This action is an energizing breath practice that clears the lungs, nasal passages, sinuses, and the mind. The exhale breath instigates rapid contraction and release of the upper abdomen while the inhalation is seemingly effortless and transparent.
Where Kapalabhati can be tridoshically balancing it is a wonderful way to bring balance to the rising Kapha of spring especially if we find ourselves with nasal congestion, brain fog and depression. The short bursts of air clean out sinus passages and strengthen the lungs by facilitating a flush of stagnant air and particles thus increasing respiratory resilience and natural immunity. As we contract and release in our abdomen we are building energy within our bodies and simulating a breathing cycle mimicking cardiovascular exercise with similar benefits. This energy facilitates movement helping to remove excess Kapha from its home sites in the stomach, lungs, mind, and sinuses.
Sheetali (Cooling Breath)
Sheetali, also known as cooling breath, is the practice of creating a cooling inhalation by curling the tongue into a straw shape and gently inhaling. Sheetali calms and soothes the mind, body, and spirit by delivering experientially cool energy to the deeper tissues of the body.
To perform it we first curl the tongue into a straw and breath in gently, allowing the breath to travel down and fill the abdomen experiencing the calming energy of this practice. Then, applying a slight contraction to the abdomen, pulling the belly button back into the spine, allowing the breath to slowly and gently leave the body through the nostrils with the mouth being clothed and the tongue relaxes or gently touching the soft palate.
Sheetali cools the body down and clears excess heat. It is very balancing to pitta and soothes excess digestive fire. As we transition from winter to spring the influx of heat can aggravate Pitta within our bodies and minds and instigate latent heat conditions like allergies, mental irritation, and eczema. Cooling breath is a wonderful way to stay cool and calm in the rising heat of spring and preventative care for the upcoming heat of our summers.
If you are unable to curl your tongue you can achieve the same effects through Sheetkari Pranayama, also known as hissing breath. To do this, gently press the top and lower teeth together, open the lips, and start inhaling. While breathing in a natural hissing sound should occur as the breath cools the sides of the tongue. After a full inhalation gently release the breath through the nose while relaxing the tongue or having it gently touching the soft palate.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)
Nadi Shodhana literally cleaning the channels of prana, but more commonly known as alternate nostril breathing, aims to purify the subtle channels of the body, harmonize the hemispheres of the brain while balancing the masculine and feminine aspects of our consciousness. It fosters mental clarity, calm alertness the mind, and brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Numerous research has shown its beneficial effect in anxiety, depression, ADHD, amongst other mental-emotional conditions.
Nadi is a Sanskrit word meaning “channel” or “flow” and shodhana means “purification”. During this practice, we breathe in through our left nostril and out through our right. We then breathe in through our right nostril and back out through our left. We can then repeat the process many times until we clearly experience its benefits. The hand position or mudra is known as Vishnu mudra and is done by folding the tips of the index and middle fingers inward until they touch the palm. We can then alternate with the thumb and ring finger closing off each nostril as needed.
Nadi Shodhana brings balance to the body, mind, and spirit. It is said that this breath balances the masculine and feminine energies of the body. Alternate nostril breathing can also strengthen our chi or state of sattva by bringing balance to the Yin, Yang, Chi or Sattva, Rajas, Tamas trios. This practice can bring a balance to the body by calming vata and infusing the body with oxygen.
When should I do this practice?
The level of your practice and health will determine how many rounds of each breath you are able to do. However, starting out with 3 round of Kapalabhati and 8 rounds of Sheetali/Sheetkari and Nadi Shodhana is a great way to introduce these pranayamas into your daily practice. This practice can be done daily in the morning or even as needed throughout the day.
What constitutes one round?
One round of Kapalabhati is and 20-30 short burst exhalations with 2-3 deep inhalations and exhalations afterward. One round of Sheetali/ Sheetkari is one full inhalation through the tongue and one full exhalation out the nostrils. One full round of Nadi Shodhana is a full breath in through the left nostril and out through the right, followed by, one full inhalation in through the right nostril and out through the left.