Awaken to Spring with Two Invigorating Breathing Practices

There are signs of spring everywhere. The earth is waking up from its wintry slumber, the birds are singing, the geese have returned, and the frozen streams have thawed. The ground is, well, it’s pretty muddy.

According to Ayurveda, the qualities associated with the mix of earth and water, like mud, are heavy, thick, dense, and moist. The transition from winter to spring is also connected to those elements within the body. When they are out of balance we might experience sluggishness, increased congestion, or fatigue.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to clear out the excess heaviness of winter and take hold of the greater vitality and energy reflected in nature. Here are two invigorating breathing practices to balance and rejuvenate your system:

Right-Nostril Breathing (Surya Bhedana pranayama)

In yoga, the right nostril is associated with heating, stimulating, and energizing qualities symbolized by the sun, or Surya, in Sanskrit. In this exercise, you use your right nostril for inhalation and the left one for exhalation.

  1. Sit in a comfortable, upright posture. If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure to place both feet on the ground.
  2. Place your right hand to the bridge of your nose, with your thumb on the right side, your ring and pinkie fingers on the left side, as in the photo.
  3. Exhale through both nostrils.
  4. Close off your left nostril and inhale through your right nostril.
  5. Close off your right nostril and exhale through your left nostril.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for 8-10 rounds.
  7. Return to your natural breath and notice the effects of this exercise.

Skull-Shining Breath (Kapalabhati pranayama)

Often known as “skull-shining breath,” Kapalahbhati comes from two Sanskrit words: Kapala, which translates to “Skull,” and Bhati, which means “light.” It’s an exercise that purifies, rejuvenates, and invigorates the mind and body.

This breath consists of a series of forceful exhalations followed by passive inhalations. Exhales are generated by contracting your lower belly, pushing air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, allowing air to effortlessly fill the lungs.

The important thing to remember for this exercise is that your inhalation is passive and your exhalation is the forceful, powerful movement. Start this practice at a slow pace, and with time you can build some speed if it feels comfortable:

  1. Sit in a comfortable, upright posture. If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure to place both feet on the ground.
  2. Focus on your lower belly. To isolate and contract this area, gently press your hands on your lower belly between the pubic bone and the navel.
  3. Now quickly contract your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs while drawing your navel in toward your spine. The primary movement is from your diaphragm.
  4. Then, release the contraction (or your hands), and allow your lungs to fill up effortlessly as your belly expands.
  5. Repeat 8-10 times at a pace that feels comfortable and easeful. Then allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm.
  6. Repeat this cycle 3 or 4 times.
  7. Let your breathing the return to normal and observe the effects of this exercise on your body and mind.

Barrie Risman is one of Canada’s most highly-regarded yoga educators, teacher trainers, and mentors. She’s the author of Evolving Your Yoga: Ten Principles for an Enlightened Practice, and the proud creator of The Skillful Yogi, a thriving, online practice and study community for yoga teachers and students from around the world.

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