Segmented Breaths

With segmented breathing, we divide the inhalation and exhalation into several parts, with a slight suspension of the breath separating each part and a distinct beginning and end-point to each segment. This stimulates the central brain and the glandular system in different ways. Instead of inhaling in one smooth motion, we break the breath up into segmented sniffs. Try not to collapse or squeeze the nostrils in on the sniff or pulled breath too deeply into the lungs.

The goal is for the breath to strike a relaxed, yet focused area in the nasal passage to stimulate a particular set of nerves. Keep the nostrils relaxed and direct the attention to the feel of the breath further along the air passages to the motion of the diaphragm.

  • 4 parts in - 1 part out : healing, energizing, uplifting4 parts in - 4 parts out : clarity, alertness, triggering glands

  • 8 parts in - 8 parts out : calming, centering

  • 8 parts in - 4 parts out : focusing, energizing

  • 4 parts in - 8 parts out : calming, unblocking, letting go

Note: The ratios used in Kundalini yoga are clearly defined and create stable, predictable, final state of mind and energy. It is best not to experiment since not all ratios are balanced or sustainable. More is not better.

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Suspending the Breath

Often as a part of a Kundalini Yoga class, instruction is given to hold the breath. Many students both new and practiced are unclear about how to manage the flow of breath, by suspending the breath in a set or meditation. This misunderstanding causes many students to lock the breath in, pull the chin in, tighten the neck and throat muscles and stiffen the tongue. It looks as though they are squeezing their face and muscles, and in fact they are. Another indication of incorrect breathing occurs with an explosive exhale or an abrupt inhale.  This homespun technique can create undo pressure in the eyes, back of the skull, heart and neck. Holding the breath in this way for longer than 10 seconds stops the breath by creating an opposition between different muscle groups which power the breath. Each time we practice this improper technique, we train the subconscious to repeat these mistakes when we are not fully alert.We can train the subconscious correctly, and it will serve us well even when we do not consciously direct the breath. To suspend the breath means to relax the muscles of the diaphragm, ribs and abdomen that are responsible for the constant motion of the breath. It will support deep internal self transformation.

To suspend the breath on the Inhale: Inhale deeply. Bring the attention to the clavicle and upper ribs. Lift the upper ribs slightly and fix them into place. Relax the shoulders, throat, and face. Pull the chin in. Become still and calm. If you feel the urge to exhale, inhale a tiny bit instead.

*The beauty of suspending the breath is that when we become aware of the dynamics of how the physical apparatus of respiration works, the mystery of breath is revealed.

To suspend the breath on the Exhale: Start with a complete exhale. Pull the navel point back towards the spine. Lift the lower chest and diaphragm. Let the upper ribs relax and compress. Do not bend the spine and ribs when you try to exhale completely--that would interrupt the action of the diaphragm. Pull the chin in. Become still and calm. If the muscles start to reflex to inhale, consciously exhale a little more. This can extend the length of suspension significantly without any strain for struggle.

Benefits of suspending the breath The goal of suspending the breath is the gradual reconditioning of the nervous system. Breath suspension allows for integration of the body systems. Suspending the breath in can temporarily raise some blood pressure. Suspending the breath in impacts the sympathetic nervous system. Suspending the breath out lowers the blood pressure, relaxes circulation. Suspending the breath out impacts the parasympathetic nervous system. Suspending the breath allows for centering and training in the use of good judgment under pressure. On the suspended breath you can experience Shuniya--zero. ShuBija is a deep stillness, into which you can plant a Bija, seed, to create a new rhythm or pattern of being. In Shuniya, the Kundalini flows.

Points to remember when suspending the breath: --The brain will trigger inhalation when the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the blood rises too high. It does not react to a loss or gain of oxygen. The cue is taken from the CO2 level. If you prepare to suspend the breath by taking several complete exhales, blowing out extra CO2, you will hold the breath longer and with more comfort. --If you begin to experiencing dizziness or disorientation, stop. Dizziness is not enlightenment! You must build this practice with determined regularity and patience. Pushing past your capacity will not help. --Throughout the practice create a calm internal spot in your awareness at observe the changes of the body and mind. --In all practices where the breath is suspended in or out, remember that the goal is a switch in metabolic activity, nervous system balance or emotional control.

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One Minute Breath

Practice Long Deep Breathing or another breathing technique to prepare the body and mind for One Minute Breath. Description:

  • Maintain a straight spine, with the chin in, and the chest lifted up and out.
  • Inhale for 20 seconds
  • suspend/hold the breath for 20 seconds
  • exhale for 20 seconds
  • Don't hold or suspend the breath after the exhale. Begin inhaling again after completing the exhalation.
  • Breath slowly and deeply,
  • drawing air first into your lower, then middle, and
  • finally upper lungs so that the entire lung is participating.
  • Eyes:Closed
  • End on an exhale and resume regular, natural breathing

Take your time with this pranayama, building your way slowly to the full 20 second inhale/hold/exhale cycle. If you cannot do 20 seconds, then do 10 or even 5 seconds. Just be sure to keep the breath even, and inhale/hold/exhale for the same amount of time. Example: Inhale 5 seconds, hold 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds.

Work your way up to 31 minutes slowly, starting with 3 minutes and moving up from there. If needed, intersperse periods of Long Deep Breathing with One Minute Breath.

Benefits:

Yogi Bhajan taught that breathing at the rate of one breath per minute develops cooperation between the hemispheres of the brain, brings the mind under control of the yogi, and builds intuition. Calming of Anxiety, fear and worry. Openness to feeling one's presence and eh presence of spirit. The whole brain works, especially the old brain and the frontal. Intuition develops.

One Minute Breath calms the mind of worries, and Yogi Bhajan also said that if practiced for 31 minutes a day a person can control all of the cells in their body, and if practiced for 62 minutes a day a person will have wisdom and stability.

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Sitali Pranayama

Sitali pranayama is a well known breathing practice. It soothes and cools the spine in the area of the fourth, fifth and sixth vertebrae. This, in turn, regulates sexual and digestive energy. This breath is often used for lowering fever. Great powers of rejuvenation and detoxification are attributed to this breath when practiced regularly. Doing 52 breaths daily can extend your lifespan.Often the tongue may taste bitter at first. This is a sign of toxification. As you continue the practice, the bitterness will diminish and ultimately shift to a sweet taste. When the taste becomes sweet, Yoga Bhajan said that, all internal sickness has been overcome.

Description: Maintain a straight spine, sitting in Easy Pose or a chair Keep your head level. Open the mouth and form an "O" shape with the lips. It may help to slightly pucker the lips. (If you cannot do it, it still works) Extend the tip of the tongue past the lips, and curl the tongue lengthwise into a straw shape. (If you can't make the straw shape, that is okay) Inhale slowly and deeply through the rolled tongue, filling the lungs completely (as in Long Deep Breathing). Exhale slowly and fully through the nostrils. Eyes: Closed and rolled up towards the third eye point between the eyebrows. Time: None specified, unless doing a particular meditation. Start with 3 or 4 minutes of practice. End: Exhale through the nostrils; then resume normal breathing through the nose.

Benefits: Sitali Pranayama is cooling and benefits the kidneys and adrenals. This breathing can be used to reduce fevers, to aid digestion and to help cleanse the spleen and liver.

Notes:The tongue can be pulled back into the mouth and the lips closed after each inhalation. Do the breath slowly and calmly, so that the passage of air through the tongue and nostrils makes no noise. There should be no whistling sound, and the breath is so calm and slow that dogs are unable to smell it. *As with any breathing practice, if you become dizzy or lightheaded stop the pranayama and resume natural breathing.

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Left - Right Nostril Breathing

The right is Pingala and has the energy of the sun: bright, fiery, awakening and male.The Ida energy, on the left, is the moon energy: reflective, calming, cooling, female. Inhaling only through your right nostril will access the left "thinking" hemisphere of your brain, and inhaling only through your left nostril will access the right "feeling" hemisphere of your brain.

We compare these systems in our Western terminology as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system, Pingala, is the fight or flight system and charges you up in times of danger. The parasympathetic system, Ida, slows you down and helps your body automatically run its day to day jobs of digestion, elimination, sleep cycles and more.

Right Nostril Breathing (Pingala)

When you need to wake up or when you need clarity, focus, and more energy, try right nostril (Pingala) breathing. Simply take your left hand and with your fingers outstretched, block off your left nostril by putting gentle pressure on it with your left thumb. Be sure to keep the rest of your fingers straight and pointing up towards the sky; the fingers act like antennas for the "cosmic" energy that surrounds us all. With a long, slow, deep breath, gently inhale through your right nostril. Then, just as gently, exhale long, slowly and completely, again through the right nostril. Relax your body, feeling the energy smoothly and gracefully building and bringing new life into your body.

Note: Don't do if you have high blood pressure.

Left Nostril Breathing (Ida)

When you need to calm down, when your mind is racing faster than a hurricane, or when you can't go to sleep, try left nostril (Ida) breathing. Simply take your right hand and with your fingers outstretched, block off your right nostril by putting gentle pressure on it with your right thumb. Be sure to keep the rest of your fingers straight and pointing up towards the sky; the fingers act like antennas for the "cosmic" energy that surrounds us all. With a long, slow, deep breath, gently inhale through your left nostril. Then, just as gently, exhale long, slowly and completely, again through the left nostril. Relax your body, feeling the cool breath bringing new life into your body. Relax even deeper with each exhale as you breathe out all tension, all stress and all disease.

*Here's an alternative rhythm you can use for left nostril breathing: Try breathing in through the left nostril as described using different "counts".  Inhale for 4 beats, hold the breath for 4 beats, and exhale for 4 beats

Benefits: are numerous including sharper, clearer focus of the mind and a deep, full relaxation or sleep.  It is said in the yogic tradition, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, that if a person breathes through the left nostril for 31 minutes a day for 90 days (the time it takes to plant a new habit into the subconscious), they will naturally change their metabolism in favor of relaxation and weight loss. A good starting time is 3 minutes.

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Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Sodhan - This simple pranayama is a basic yogic breath practice. Consciously alternating your breath between either nostril allows you to activate and access your whole brain. Engaging both hemispheres of the brain affects the glandular system and mood. The left nostril is associated with the Ida Nadi and Right Hemisphere of the brain. Breathing through the left nostril is known to be calming, cooling, relaxing and associated with lunar energy. The cool silvery moon. The right nostril is associated with the Pingala Nadi and Left Hemisphere of the brain. Breathing through the right nostril is known to be stimulating, energizing, warming, and associated with solar energy. The fiery light of the sun.

Description: Sit with an extended spine, in Easy Pose or in a chair. Hold the left hand in Gyan mudra (pads of the thumb and index finger touching). Exhale fully and then close the right nostril by gently pressing the side of the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand (other fingers point straight up). Inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril using either the index or ring finger of the right hand. Open the right nostril and exhale. Inhale through the right nostril. Close the right nostril using the thumb of the right hand. Open the left nostril and exhale. This is one cycle of alternate nostril breathing. Eyes: Closed Time: If not being used as part of a structured meditation, continue as long as comfortable. End: On an exhale, then resume regular, comfortable breathing.

Revitalizes you: A few rounds of alternate nostril breathing is a quick pick me up if you are feeling flat, tired or even stressed. It provides your body with a much needed dose of extra energy. Improves brain function: Alternate nostril breathing brings equal amounts of oxygen to both sides of the brain for improved brain function.  Five minutes of alternate nostril breathing before an exam or interview is a great way to access your whole brain for improved performance. Cleanses your lungs: A daily five minute practice morning and night of alternate nostril breathing is great way to remove stale air and impurities from the bottom of your lungs. 70% of our body's waste products are eliminated via our lungs. Calms an agitated mind: If you are prone to worrying. A few minutes of focused alternate nostril breathing is helpfulin calming an "over thinking" mind. The ancient yogis believed that if you can regulate your breath, you can control your mind. Merges the left "thinking" brain with the right "feeling brain: Alternate nostril breathing optimizes both sides of your brain so you can access your whole brain and the benefits that go with it. Single nostril breathing can be used to activate, just the left"thinking" or just right "feeling" side of your brain for specific situations. Encourages a calmer emotional state: In times of emotional distress and upset, a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing will soften the intensity of over reactive emotional states.  The longer you practice, the more stable your thinking, and the calmer your emotions will become. Improves sleep: If you can't sleep at night, lay on your right hand side, gently close your right nostril with your right thumb and breath through your left nostril.  This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which will calm you down and slow your heart rate. Great preparation for meditation: Alternate nostril breathing is a simple little trick that can be practiced for a few minutes before you begin your meditation practice. It's a very easy way to help you find your meditation groove. Soothes your nervous system: By focusing on your breath and deepening it, your brain will register this message and trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. You have effectively switched your nervous system from a stressed response, into a relaxation response. Single left nostril breathing (by closing your right nostril) will direct the flow of oxygen and energy to the right hemisphere of your brain, allowing once again, for the parasympathetic nervous system to be switched on. Regulates the cooling and warming cycles of the body: Left nostril is feminine, nurturing, calm and cooling. Right nostril is masculine, heat, competitive and forceful. Favoring one nostril more than the other can effect the heat or coolness of your body. Clears and boosts your energy channels: Slightly forced alternate nostril breathing improves and directs the flow of energy throughout your body. It oxygenates your blood and allows the energy (prana) in your body to be strong and flowing. Enhances rest and relaxation: A restless mind cannot relax. Alternate nostril breathing melts away any imbalances between the right and left hemisphere of your brain and calms your thinking. This is perfect for helping you access rest and relaxation far more efficiently.

*Another interesting fact about your nostrils is that you don't breathe through them equally all the time.  Right now, you will be favoring either your left nostril or your right nostril.

Left nostril for calming – right nostril for energy: Your nose is directly linked to your brain and nervous system. Inhaling through your left nostril only, will access the right "feeling" hemisphere of your brain, and Inhaling through your right nostril only, will access the left "thinking" hemisphere of your brain.

Note: Don't practice this pranayama if you are experience sinus headaches, nasal congestion or other sinus related issues. Instead practice a more gentle pranayama such as Long Deep Breathing, or rest in Savasana.

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