“When all the nadis that are now full of impurities become purified, then only can you successfully perform pranayama”.
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 2.4
Neti – cleansing your nasal passages with a saline solution.
Many people develop the habit of breathing through their mouths, simply because their noses are blocked. Your nose is designed for breathing; your mouth is not. So, before you attempt to do breathing exercises, it is best to start with some nasal cleansing.
Neti is an excellent means to cleanse your nasal passages and sinus cavities of pollution, dust, pollen and excess mucus. It is useful to everyone who lives in a modern city and works in an office, or takes public transport – or goes into shops, i.e. almost everyone. It is especially beneficial for people with asthma, allergies and other respiratory problems. You can do this simple, hygienic practice daily – preferably each morning just after you have brushed your teeth. At first you may want to practice neti in front of a mirror so that you can see the openings of your nostrils.
- You will need a small “neti pot”with a spout. These are available from most health food shops and online – also they are sold by many pharmacies and chemists. Fill the neti pot with the lukewarm water. Add approximately ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt and stir until the salt is absorbed.
- Leaning over a sink, inhale breath and hold your breath. Tighten the back of your throat as though you were about to gargle. Tilt your head to the left and pour the salt-water into your right nostril. Allow gravity to drain the water out through your left nostril. Do not inhale the water
- Blow your nose and repeat the procedure by tilting your head to the right and pouring the water through your left nostril. After performing neti on both sides, be sure to blow out all excess water.
Kapalabhati: purifying your breath, mind and body
The Sanskrit word “kapala” means skull; “bhati” denotes shining. In this exercise, you use your breath to cleanse your respiratory and circulatory systems. With regular practice, kapalabhati purifies your entire system so thoroughly that your face shines with good health and inner radiance.
The best time to do kapalabhati is right after practicing neti (see above), at the beginning of your pranayama session or before your meditation.
Kapalabhati cleanses your nasal passage, lungs and entire respiratory system while strengthening and increasing your lung capacity. It helps to drain your sinuses and eliminate accumulated mucus. It also eliminates carbon dioxide and other impurities from your blood stream, permitting the red-blood cells to suck in more oxygen. The additional oxygen enriches your blood and aids in the renewal of body tissues.
The movement of your diaphragm and abdominal contractions massage your stomach, liver, spleen, heart and pancreas. Your abdominal muscles are strengthened; digestion tends to improve.
Kapalabhati refreshes and invigorates your mind. You will probably experience an increased alertness as a result of the additional intake of fresh oxygen. Expect a feeling of exhilaration and an increase of mental clarity.
To do kapalabhati: Sit with your back straight and your head erect, preferably in a cross-legged position. If you are unable to sit cross-legged, sit on a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the ground. Take 2-3 exaggerated deep breaths, then inhale and begin the rhythmic abdominal pumping as follows:
- Contract your abdominal muscles quickly. This causes your diaphragm to move up into your thoracic cavity, emptying the air from your lungs and pushing it out through your nostrils.
- Relax your abdominal muscles; passive inhalation takes place. Your lungs automatically inflate with air. Do not forcefully inhale.
Repeat this rapid pumping. End on an exhalation and then take 2-3 deep breaths to bring your breathing back to normal. This is one round of kapalabhati.
Start with three rounds of 20-25 pumpings each. Gradually increase this to a daily practice of 3-5 rounds of 30-50 pumpings each.
Caution: Kapalabhati should not be practiced during pregnancy or menstrual period. It is counter-indicated if you have a hernia, abdominal pain or cramping, high blood pressure or are experiencing an asthmatic attack.
The mechanics of kapalabhati can be a bit difficult to grasp; it is suggested that you learn to do it from a qualified yoga teacher.