Stoke Your Fire with Pranayama

Pranayama (breathing) practices are a great way to cultivate inner heat during the winter. Larissa Hall Carlson, a Kripalu Yoga teacher and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, shares three of her favorite warming pranayama practices sure to get your inner space heater thrumming.

Anuloma Viloma is a variation of Nadi Shodhana (Alternate-Nostril Breathing), with a short breath retention. Larissa explains that breath retention stokes the tejas, an Ayurvedic term meaning “inner radiance,“ by charging the nervous system with self-generated heat, warming the body and clearing the chattering of the mind (and possibly the teeth!). One of the keys to practicing anuloma viloma is to keep the breath retention short, to avoid strain. “The breath should be held for a few counts,“ Larissa suggests, “four to 10 heartbeats at the most.“

Kapalabhati, or Skull-Polishing breath, consists of short, sharp exhalations and passive inhalations while pumping the belly. The belly-pumping action is great for stimulating the digestive fire, which can get sluggish during the cold, dark days of winter. It’s also effective for clearing the sinuses—just make sure you have a tissue handy. Though kapalabhati can be quite vigorous and active, Larissa suggests practicing it gently and mindfully, allowing the exhales to be soft puffs of air; one to two rounds of 30 pumps should do the trick. (Kapalabhati is contraindicated for those who are pregnant, or have glaucoma or high blood pressure.)

Ujjayi, also known as Victorious or Ocean-Sounding breath, is the pranayama technique most associated with hatha yoga. Ujjayi is a steady inhale and exhale through the nose, with a mild constriction at the back of the throat during the exhale. The constriction creates an “ocean sound“ that is meant to heat the body and focus the mind. Larissa recommends ujjayi to accompany warming yoga practices such as Sun Salutations, standing and balancing postures, and grounded yin poses.

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