Kundalini Yoga - Pranayama (Breathing Techniques)
Long Deep Breathing and Breath of Fire
Pieter Schoonheim Samara - Phuket, Thailand
See also Lesson 7 of our Free Online Kundalini Yoga Course
For those Kundalini Yoga practitioners who have been doing Long Deep Breathing and Breath of Fire for many years, the breath is so natural and easy that unless one is also teaching one might not easily focus on what the difficulty could possibly be.
Quite often students will fill the lower abdominal area of the lungs, then as the try to fill the chest area, they shift the air from the lower area to the chest, as they try to lift the rib cage, and do not actually keep the downward pressure of air in filling upwards, but instead only shift upwards, so that a complete breath is still only chest breathing and not actually diaphragm breathing.
The conscious awareness of the diaphragm is not apparent to every one so some means needs to be provided to somehow allow attention to the sensation of the use of the diaphragm to come into focus until the natural rhythm of the diaphragm is felt and the effortless force and flow of prana takes over.
A great way to relax, and also very good for any lung-related problems.
Long Deep Breathing is usually taught first because one can become aware of the full distention and contraction of the diaphragm, after which the Breath of Fire may come more naturally.
Sitting cross-legged (or even in corps pose), in long deep breathing one will first fill the abdominal area by inhaling the air down, then pressing the air consciously into the lower areas. By arching somewhat forward with ones palms on the knees, then with arms straight pressing the palms inward towards the lower body against the knees, the chest cavity will open forwards, so that you can not only keep the pressure on the lungs in the lower abdominal area, but also feel the lungs filling in and through the chest area and, finally, because of the forward arch of the spine the upper area of the lungs will fill as well, all without the need to either open the rib cage or raise the shoulders.
Once the lungs are completely filled in this manner, hold the breath lightly for a moment and press the shoulders back and expand the chest out so that the full length and pressure on the diaphragm can be felt.
Then contract the entire length of the diaphragm from the upper chest to the abdomen, so that all the air is squeezed out.
By breathing in this way through the nostrils for several breaths, the flow of energy consciousness (the feeling of prana) through the diaphragm can be felt from the pressing down and distending of the air into the lower region of the lungs, where most of the blood circulates, then filling through and up to the chest areas from the back to the front and into the upper lungs.
The pressure in the lungs in all areas of the lungs also generates energy in all the nerve endings, so that the entire body is effected both by the breath and the pressure on the nerves.
Once the Long Deep Breathing is done in the manner described, the focus on the muscles of the abdomen, chest and shoulder areas as being involved in the breathing begins to recede, as the natural bellows like motion of the entire diaphragm is felt.
A cleansing & energising breath, powered by abdominal contractions
Once the diaphragm is felt during Long Deep Breathing then there are a couple of ways in which one can begin to do Breath of Fire, where the air is pulled in and pumped out very rhythmically, just like pumping a bellows, without any tension being felt whatsoever on the abdominal muscles, chest and rib cage muscles or shoulders, which remain relaxed throughout the breath, so that it may almost seem that you can continue the rhythm indefinitely with little effort at all.
One way to start Breath of Fire, which was the way I learned it some 30 years ago, is to start with long deep breathing, then as soon as the lungs are completely expanded, as described earlier, to immediately force the air out, and as soon as most of the air is out to immediately expand the air back in, each time arching the spine forwards and pressing the palms inward against the knees in a light manner to feel the diaphragm filling the lungs from the back to the front completely, then contracting again.
With each breath one expands a bit faster and contracts a bit faster until without expanding or contracting completely, a rhythm is felt, and you let that rhythm take over.
You might liken it to an old steam locomotive where the wheels lurch forwards until some steam and speed is built up, then suddenly the train is moving forward almost effortlessly, with each breath like the chugging sound of the locomotive.
The other way to get into the rhythm of the Breath of Fire for some, may be to immediately go to a powerful rhythmic breath, just by visualizing the bellows like nature of the diaphragm.
Either way, from that point on you can make the Breath of Fire very powerful or very light.
The Breath of Fire is not the same as Bastrika, which is a light fast rhythmic breath, usually taught as one of the pranayamas in hatha yoga.
Nor is the Breath of Fire like Kabalabati, which is a forceful breath, where you contract the abdomen and rib cage (pulling on the root lock with each contacting breath), where the simple relaxing of the rib cage brings the air back into the lungs, without inhaling, and you force the air out again (also in a rhythmic manner).
While Kapalabati is very powerful and beneficial, and while it is used in many Kundalini Yoga Kriyas, it is not the same as Breath of Fire.
Breath of Fire will entirely charge the nervous system, causing the glands to secrete and purify the blood. When it is done with certain postures and movements, which are meant to put contracting (drawing in) or expanding (releasing) pressure in nerve plexuses and glandular centers, those areas are made to fire and become completely charged.
As an area becomes charged, the sexual (seminal) fluids are released into the bloodstream and flow to those charged areas, so that gradually those areas will maintain that charge and pranic pressure builds throughout the body converting Bindu (Tamasic and Rajasic energy) to Ojas (Satvic energy), which fills and permeates the entire body and mind.
Bit by bit, over a period of just a few weeks of sets and kriyas combining posture, movement, breath, sound and locks, the entire body will begin to feel magnetically electric and etheric, as the field becomes balanced with an inward dynamo-like force.
As this charge builds and polarizes, the mind becomes very still, very clear and bright, and a radiance is felt in and through and around the body and head.
The feeling of the stressful need to think and act and to be the "doer" begin to recede, as the mind becomes more receptive and open to notice that there seems to be an almost automatic connectedness between one's aims and events and experiences that come to fulfill them. The feeling of a natural ever present oneness begins to emerge as a clearer always existing reality.
Little by little, outward tendencies of the mind towards the physical and mental begin to fade, and one abides in one's satvic presence - spacelike, pervasive, without the sense of me or mine - the Self-Effulgent Heart, where "I AM" is the single Truth.
The practice of Kundalini Yoga with the natural awareness and rhythm of the diaphragm in Long Deep Breathing and Breath of Fire allows the postures and kriyas to have the greatest and most complete effect in bringing the satvic field to the point where the Self recollects Itself and abides without attention in one's True Name - Sat Nam.
Try these breaths out this way and see what happens.
Susan P. Boles - Toronto, Canada
Most of us don't know how to breathe properly. We take shallow breaths as if we are afraid of what breath does. But breath is manna to our bodies...so we should drink heavily and deeply to energize and feed our bodies.
I was taught by breathing in to the count of four...slow counts. Feel the breath expand your ribcage.....you are aiming to fill your whole chest cavity with air. At the end of the fourth, when you think you can't take any more air in, take a sip more. Hold for a count of four. Exhale over a count of four....and when you think you have all the air out, huff more out.
You will be amazed how much you can get out after this count of four. You may experience burning in your lungs doing this. But soon, your breathing comes deep and sure....and the count of four expands to a count of five...six. I was told to concentrate on the emptiness between breathing in and breathing out....that period of stillness.
Once my lungs were used to doing this, I started breathing in from different parts of my body. No one taught me this...it just started to happen when I meditated. I would open up my crown chakra and breathe the energy down, on an inbreath....feeling it flow around my heart....keeping it there....then on the outbreath, push the breath down the rest of my body to exit out my feet. Then I would reverse it, breathing in my feet, feel it flowing to my heart, then on the exhale, pushing it up and out my head. Dizzying at first....but the energy that fills me when I do that is incredible.
I found out later that I was unconsciously doing something that is taught to get the energy flowing in the two currents that wind around our spines. We would practice this for about five minutes.....at the beginning of each session. It prepared us for the work in the session by calming us and getting our minds into the proper space for work.
The fire breath is very different. Here, you concentrate on the outbreath, as it is thrown out with such force, the inbreath comes after it automatically. We were taught to put our hand on our bellies and use those muscles to force air out of our lungs in a whoosh. Our hands were to remind us to use those muscles to force it out. Your whole abdomen is used to empty the lungs very quickly. You should hear your breath coming out vocally....almost like a cough but not so loud...kinda like a HUH sound.
Here, you are not using so much breath...it is like little sips in and whooshes out. Like my advanced terminology?? :;grins:: As the fire in fire breath is related to the power center or third chakra, this is where the breath is being localized. You are using your diaphragm and stomach muscles to force the breath out. Dizzying again.....and you feel the heat in your belly rising up into you.....making your head reel with it.
It took me awhile to get used to doing this....and my stomach muscles hated me for a while... but it was worth everything to feel what I did when the rising started. At first, we couldn't do it very much.....it was far too difficult to keep up....but as the weeks went by, we had longer lessons using it.
The alternate nostril breathing was taught to us after the above two. After doing the first breathing exercise a few times, raise one of your hands to your face, palm facing it. Put your thumb by one nostril and your forefinger by the other. Gently put your thumb over the nostril, blocking the passage of air through it. Breathe in the other nostril slowly, using the first technique. Hold the inbreath for a second...concentrating on the stillness....then exhale. Remove your thumb, and put your forefinger on it's nostril and breathe in...concentrating on the middle...exhale.
Continue to alternate with one complete inhale/exhale per thumb/finger. Do this for about eight to ten cycles. You should feel this breathing calming you yet energizing your chakras.
Susan P. Boles lives in a small town, east of Toronto, Canada, and is a student and teacher of chakras. A gifted healer, using her own brand of hands-on and remote healing, she makes use of Reiki, Therapeutic touch and an inner child process to help people. This is not a full time occupation - she mainly helps people over the Net as she finds her effectiveness is greater using this energy medium. She has facilitated earth healing meditations for several groups.
When Susan first started taking Kundalini Yoga, she had a very hard time even getting on the floor. She had broken her back at work. Doing anything was extremely painful. Her teacher was very patient with her - allowing her to adapt positions she couldn't get into or found hard to maintain. After a few months, and the aid of other alternative healing methods, she was able to move with much greater mobility, feeling the energy move up her spine. The fire breath, actually just learning to breathe properly, helped her a lot. Now, she says, if you look at her back, you will not find the break. She went from being wheelchair dependent, according to allopathics, to being able to do anything she wanted, and she does too!