Reinvigorating a Pranayama Home Practice

Posted on March 15th, 2012 by in Yoga

Need a refresher course in establishing, or reestablishing, a pranayama routine at home? Here are some practical approaches for planning a regular routine and incorporating this self-nurturing, transformative techniques into your daily life.

Begin by creating safe and sacred space for your pranayama practice. Choose a private place free from interruption and distraction, with good air circulation. If possible, find a spot void of electronics. In good weather, consider an outdoor location (this is my favorite and most frequent choice for my personal pranayama practice). Make it welcoming: beautify your space with bits of inspiration (fresh flowers, mala beads, statues, photos of loved ones or teachers, sentimental objects, favorite quotes). Have fresh water, tissues, and a journal handy.

Choose a time to practice daily. Pranayama is best done in the early morning and on an empty stomach, but gentle techniques such as dirgha, ujjayi, and nadi shodhana can be practiced just about any time of day. Consistency is more important than duration, so choose the most viable time to delve into your home practice.

Prepare a steady, comfortable seat. Sitting on a cushion or folded blanket is ideal to support level hips, an erect spine, and a relaxed belly. If the knees are tender or the hips are tight, sitting on a block or straddling a bolster are a wonderful option. Even sitting on the edge of a chair with the feet grounded and the knees over ankles can provide comfort for tender spots or long sessions.

Begin with a body scan to check how you’re feeling—physically, energetically, mentally, and spiritually—and consciously relax the major tension holders in the body (the forehead, eyes, jaw, shoulders, belly, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet). Take a few deep abdominal breaths to ground your attention in the present moment and transition from the activities of the day into a time of simplicity, serenity, and mindful awareness.

Set an intention. Reading an inspiring quote or choosing an internal focal point for transformation can provide profound healing in every session.

It’s often best to pick your favorite breathing techniques and do them daily. But for a frequent pranayama sequence, explore the following:

  • Dirgha (Three-Part Breath): three to five minutes. Fill the belly, ribcage, and collarbones with a smooth, wave-like breath to anchor the attention in the present. When you establish a comfortable rhythm, layer on ujjayi (Ocean-Sounding Breath). Create the meditative ocean sound in the throat to further calm and quiet the fluctuations of the mind. Keep the breath fluid and rhythmic; avoid straining or forcing the breath.
  • Pause and feel the harmonizing effects of dirgha and ujjayi. Scan for new sensations.
  • Kapalabhati (Skull-Polishing Breath): 30 seconds to one minute, engage a steady stream of strong exhales and passive inhales, through the nose initiated by the pumping of the belly during the exhalations. Don’t force the breath, but rather focus on the rejuvenating power of the belly pumping.  Keep the breath even and rhythmic. (Contraindications: Don’t practice kapalabhati if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma, hernia, or abdominal discomfort; have had surgery recently; are pregnant; or are on the first few days of menses.)
  • Pause and feel the effects of kapalabhati. Scan for sensations of aliveness (vibration, heat, tingling, lightness, expansion, softness, enhanced awareness).
  • Nadi shodhana (Alternate-Nostril Breath/Channel-Purifying Breath): three to 5 minutes. Using the right hand in Vishnu mudra (folding the middle and index fingers into the palm and keeping the ring and little fingers and thumb straight), close off the right nostril gently with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Switch, exhaling through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, switch, and exhale through the left nostril. Continue this sequence. Keep the breath smooth, long, and gentle to balance the hemispheres of the brain, soothe the nervous system, and quiet the mind.
  • Pause and feel the physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual effects of nadi shodhana.
  • Take several minutes of silent meditation to bask in the raised prana and integrate the fruits of your practice.

As your home pranayama practice develops, it can be helpful to reach out for inspiration from experienced teachers and peers. Remember, just a few minutes of concentrated breathing each day can provide abundant gifts.

How does it feel to invigorate your body with fresh breath? Do you feel a difference?

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About Larissa Hall Carlson, RYT 500

Larissa is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant, and Yee Yoga teacher. A program leader and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, Larissa has taught yoga, meditation, pranayama, and yogic philosophy for the Tanglewood Music Center, Berkshire Opera Company, Juilliard School, and Boston Conservatory. She is the Dean for Kripalu’s School of Ayurveda. Creator of the CDs Meditative Yoga Flow: A Kripalu Sadhana and Ayurvedic Pranayama and Meditation for the Doshas, she teaches workshops, directs yoga trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations.
  • Bruce Callahan

    Simple and basic-just the way I like it.  

  • KripaluEditor

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Bruce.

  • peg

    great reminders and thank you.  Love the gentleness of the article.

  • jld

    How does one time 30s, 1min or 5 min without looking at a clock throughout?  I usually count breaths.  Great practice.

    • Larissac

      Counting breaths is often a great option, as some pranayamas create a sense of timelessness–not knowing whether it’s been 3 minutes or 30 minutes in anuloma viloma, for instance. 

      Another nice option, when there are no time constraints, is to explore each technique until the mind’s attention splinters or the body gives signals that it’s time to move onto the next thing.  Feel it out and let the body’s wisdom guide the timing.  Enjoy!

  • Cynthia

    Thank you Larissa for reminders of the simplicity, structure, and consistency!~ It works best for me to prepare my space the night before my morning practice.