A traditional breath in yoga is the bhastrika pranayama (pronounced bah-stree-kah), also known as ‘the bellows breath’ or ‘bellows breathing’. As winter draws to a close and the last of the winter illnesses lurk around, bhastrika pranayama is an ideal Zamasana of the Month for August as it cleanses the body through its vigorous and dynamic movement that thoroughly clears the respiratory system and increases the body’s vitality. The bhastrika breathing enriches and enhances the clarity of the mind, and brings strength to the nervous system.
So how does one perform the bhastrika breath?
To start, relax your shoulders and upper body, and take some deep, full breaths.
Begin exhaling forcefully through the nose, directly followed by an equally forceful inhalation – at just one second for the cycle (note: beginners may find it easier to inhale and exhale through the mouth until they become accustomed to the rhythm and can switch to breathing through the nose). These breaths are coming completely from the diaphragm, and the belly should visibly be moving in and out while the head, neck, shoulders and chest remain as still as possible. Bellows breathing should be significantly audible.
Begin the bhastrika breaths by doing a round of ten, then let your body relax and breath naturally and evaluate and notice the body’s sensations. After a rest of 20 seconds or so, begin the next round of 20 bhastrika breaths, pause and rest for 30-40 seconds, then do a final round of 30 breaths.
At all times, stay tuned to your body during this practice. Bhastrika breathing is a unique sensation, and if you feel at all uncomfortable or light-headed, stop, rest your body, then resume when you’re ready at a less intense pace.
Practicing bhastrika pranayama brings the attention inwards, into your own body, reminding us of how our breath is our life force and contains the power to direct and increase energy.
Bhastrika breathing can fend off feelings of sluggish-ness, and doing a few rounds per day engages the metabolism and increases digestive power and, in doing so, can help lose weight. Bellows breathing is best performed earlier in the day, as it can invigorate the mind and make it difficult to sleep if done shortly before bed. Bhastrika pranayama is not suitable for pregnant women, and it is advised that it is not practised on a full stomach.