Bhastrika Pranayama – The Bellow’s Breath
Bhastrika Pranayama is one of the main forms of Pranayama. In Sanskrit, Bhastrika means the ‘bellows ’. Just as the blacksmith blows his bellows to create heat and purify iron, Bhastrika is said to purify the mind and clear pranic blocks. Bhastrika is mentioned in the yoga texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika and the Gheranda Samhita.
Bhastrika involves both rapid inhalation as well as exhalation. This helps to increase the circulation of blood in the entire body. During rapid and forced exhalation, the chest is compressed, thereby pushing the blood towards the head. During the inhalation, the reverse takes place. This process increases the blood flow to every part of the body, increasing the vitality of all the organs and tissues. Long term practice of Bhastrika purifies the body and awakens the inherent higher powers. During Bhastrika, the increase in blood flow causes a slight rise in body temperature, accompanied with mild sweating which reduces the temperature and keeps the body at normal temperature. Most pranayama techniques either increase or decrease the body temperature, but Bhastrika more or less maintains the body temperature. Bhastrika also increases the oxygen content in the blood.
Bhastrika practice can be considered as a combination of Kapalbhati and Ujjayi pranayama. The exhalation is similar to that in Kapalbhati and inhalation is similar to that done in Ujjayi pranayama. Once you have practiced Kapalbhati and Ujjayi, Bhastrika is easy. Bhastrika can be practiced both in the morning and evening. During summer, if the temperature is high, the practice should be restricted to mornings only. Bhastrika is an advanced practice and should be done on an empty stomach, after evacuation in the morning. Those who take up prolonged practice of Bhastrika, should take only light meals during morning and night. The lunch can be normal.
Who should not do Bhastrika Pranayama?
Those suffering from heart diseases should not do this pranayama. Also avoid it when you have a severe block of the nose. Those with acute asthma and fever should also not attempt Bhastrika. If you had any recent surgery, please consult your doctor before attempting Bhastrika. Practice of Bhastrika can be little intense for some people. It should be learned only under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor. In case of any existing medical conditions, please consult your doctor before taking up the practice.
How to do Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellow’s Breath)?
- Sit in any steady asana. Padmasana, Siddhasana and Vajrasana are ideal for the practice.
- Keep the body erect and close the mouth.
- Inhale and exhale in rapid succession. During this process a hissing sound is produced. Start with say 10 inhalations and exhalations per round. It can be increased over a period of time. Some practitioners even do it till they get perspiration.
- Some practice Bhastrika along with Kumbhaka (holding of the breath) at the end of the last exhalation. To do this, take a deep breath after the last exhalation and hold the breath inside for as long as comfortable. Then exhale and start breathing normally. This will constitute one round. Another way of doing it is mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika. There it is said that at the end of the last exhalation, one should breathe in through the right nostril and hold the breath. Then release the breath through the left nostril.
- Do three such rounds of Bhastrika Between the rounds, rest for a while, till the breathing comes back to normal. If you are short of time, practice at least one round which is good enough to maintain fitness.
- Have two sittings, one in the morning and one in the evening (if the temperature is cool).
Benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellow’s Breath)
- Bhastrika pranayama increases the oxygen content in the blood. Extra oxygen replenishes the entire body.
- It removes blockages in the nose and chest.
- It is good for asthma patients and removes inflammation of the throat.
- Bhastrika increases the gastric fire and improves appetite.
- Bhastrika when practiced with Kumbhaka can generate heat in the body and keep it warm in cold weather.
- Bhastrika improves general health and activates all the organs.
- Bhastrika purifies the nadis or the energy (pranic) channels in the body, ensuring free flow of prana to all the organs in the body.
- Bhastrika has great spiritual benefits. It helps to break through the three Granthis or psychic knots that bind the soul. The three knots are called Brahma Granthi (at the base of spine, near Mooladhara and Swadhishtana Chakra), Vishnu Granthi (around the heart chakra) and Rudra Granthi ( at the Agna Chakra). These are emotional and mental knots, block the individual’s evolution. Prolonged practice of Bhastrika loosens up these Granthis. Bhastrika destroys the phlegm that blocks the entrance to Sushumna Nadi (or the central pranic channel), thus enabling energy to pass up the spinal channel. Prolonged practice can help to awaken the inherent Kundalini Shakti at the base of the spine.
- Bhastrika destroys the defects of Vata (wind), Pitta (Bile)and Kapha (Phlegm) and balances these three.
Bhastrika is one of the main practices taken up by serious students of yoga. One should not overdo the exercise out of enthusiasm. Start with less rounds (say 10 inhalations and exhalations). Slowly increase it to 60 or 120 over a period of time. Some do even 500 or more, depending on the strength and comfort of the practitioner. Some do it till they get tired and start to perspire. One should judge one’s own capacity before doing it. Those who take up Bhastrika seriously should eat only Satvic food (pure, fresh, light, nourishing and easy to digest). Also, the use of enema is recommended to keep the bowels clean, whenever required.
There are many variations of Bhastrika. In some variations, only one nostril is used for inhalation and exhalation. First it is done through the left nostril and then through the right nostril. In another variation, the inhalation is done through one nostril and the exhalation is done through the other.