Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath): Steps, Benefits & Precautions

bhastrika pranayama - the bellows breath

Our body is our temple, the more we are conscious towards it, keep it clean internally and externally, feed it right with the right activities and food, the more it will be sustained and giving.

Breathing is the epitome of all activities that we perform on a daily basis. It’s all that we are comprised of mainly.

An average human being breathes in 500 ml of oxygen in a normal case but if you are conscious about your breathing and makes an effort to snug in more air than usual, our body receives 5,000-10,000 ml oxygen.

With these statistics, you can imagine how beneficial is Pranayamic Breathing for us.

There are many breathing techniques in yogic tradition which rejuvenates dormant cell of the body by energetic contraction and expansion of respiratory organs. Bhastrika is one of those energetic breathings which involves heavy breathing through nostrils.

Bhastrika Pranayama – The Bellows Breath

Bhastrika is an energetic yogic breathing technique, actually invented by ancient yogis to provide sufficient oxygen to every cell of your body and mind. Yogis usually do this practice before going into the heavy postures to heat up the body.

At the time of practicing Bhastrika, the movement of your breath is so fast that it resembles the tool (Bellows) used to fan the fire in ancient times. It’s the reason Bhastrika pranayama also known as the Bellows Breath or Breath of Fire

The technique of performing Bhastrika breath is very similar to Kapalbhati but there is a difference between Kapalbhati and Bhastrika Pranayama.

See also: Kapalbhati Pranayama – The Skull Shining Breath

  1. Kapalbhati emphasizes fast and quick exhalation of air and involves your breath along with stomach
  2. Unlike Bhastrika, where both inhalation and exhalation requires forceful and quick action which involves your breath and lungs

Types of Bhastrika Pranayama

Based on the frequency & rate of breathing, Bhastrika can be categorized into 3 types.

1. Fast Pace Bhastrika

People who are young in age i.e. have active body should practice this pranayama in teevre gati or fast pace to get the maximum benefits.
In this mode, your abdominal muscles move at a very fast pace and a strong hissing sound can be heard.

2. Medium Pace Bhastrika

People with some medical issues such as casual back pain or migraine should perform this practice in madhyam gati or medium pace.
In this mode, focus more on in and out the movement of air and try to keep your body more aligned with your breath. A slow hissing sound can be heard.

3. Slow Pace Bhastrika

People suffering from heart problems, blood pressure or old age people with the weak respiratory system should practice this pranayama in samanya gati i.e. slow pace.
In this mode, a very slow in and out breathe movement is followed by slow abdomen movement.

The pace of this pranayama holds big importance as it varies according to different age and body types.

How to Perform Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika Pranayama is performed by rapid inhalation and exhalation of air which majorly involves your lungs and abdominal muscles.

Mainly there are two methods of doing Bhastrika Pranayama.

  1. One is described according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika called Traditional Approach of doing Bhastrika.
  2. Another method is a variant of the classical method which involves the movement of arms and shoulder along with abdominal breathing.

1. Traditional Method of Bhastrika Pranayama – Step To Perform It

Prepare yourself for bellows breathing by following steps.

  • Sit comfortably in Siddhasana or Padmasana with spine erect and aligned with neck. Place your hands in Dhyaan mudra to concentrate your mind.
  • Take a few deep breaths in and out followed by consecutive expanding and contracting of abdominal muscles and lungs with your Prana movement.

Steps of Bhastrika Pranayama.

Now begin bellows breathing by increasing the pace of deep breathing.

  • To do this, inhale forcefully and quickly through nostrils by rapid expanding of the chest and abdominal muscles. It will fill your lungs with a sufficient amount of oxygen.
  • After rapid inhale, exhale in the same manner by contracting your abdominal muscles and thus forcefully expelling toxins out from the body through the nose.

One rapid inhale followed by rapid exhale is counts as one breath of bhastrika.

2. Modern Variation of Bhastrika Pranayama

This variation of bhastrika pranayama is very helpful for beginners to forcefully involve their abdominal and chest muscles while breathing.

Steps to perform Modern version Bhastrika Pranayama:

  • Sit straight with spine erect and place both your hands in front of your shoulders.
  • Close your both hands palm to make a fist.
  • Start breathing slowly in and out involving your abdominal muscles and lungs.

Inhale

bhastrika pranayama - inhale (hands up)

  • Begin Bellows breathing – Inhale, raise your hands in the air along with opening your fist.

Exhale

exhale with hands down in bhastrika pranayama

  • Exhale, bring back the arms back to the shoulder level with hands making a fist again.

Repeat this process for 5-10 minutes with little breaks.

Practice Note:

The ratio of inhalation vs. exhalation in 3 types of bellows breathing is the following:

  • If you are healthy enough, you can go for fast pace bhastrika. Inhale: Exhale – 1:1 (Inhale and exhale in 1 second)
  • Medium pace bhastrika – 2.5: 2.5 (Inhale and exhale for 2.5 seconds)
  • Slow pace bhastrika – 5:5 (Inhale and exhale for 5 seconds)

In 1st round of bellows breathing – Go for 10 breaths and then take a 15 to 20 seconds normal breathing nap.
2nd round, begin bellows breath in the same way but this time increase it up to 15 breaths and then do normal breathing.

In this way, go up to 5 rounds of bellows breath and increase 5 breaths in each round. At the end of practice, in this way, you would achieve 30 bellows breath.

To neutralize the effect of heat produced through this heavy breathing, practice some cooling breath like Sitali and Sitkari.

Benefits of Bhastrika Pranayama

Bhastrika works on a simple mechanism of how bellows are used in emitting fire from the air.

The way bellows squeezed together with two handles to produce fire, in our body, abdominal and diaphragm muscles rapidly draw in and out to generate heat in the body.

  • The heat produced by the rapid movement of abdominal organs in bellows breath increases the digestive capacity, which is directly interlinked with navel chakra.
  • As inhale and exhale both in this breathing is active, it clears accumulated toxins and hence energy pathways (nadis) got purified.
  • Rhythmic exhalation & inhalation of bellows breath create compression and decompression on the brain. It has a similar effect as someone is massaging your head.
  • Research 1 is done on measuring oxygen consumption after fast pace bhastrika pranayama (232 breath/min) and reported that it increases oxygen consumption by 208%.
  • Slow pace bhastrika practiced by beginners also is very helpful in lowering the blood pressure with slight fall in heart rate 2. This breathing lowers it activating parasympathetic system.
  • Helps in balancing out the three doshas i.e. Vatta, Pitta and Kapha.
  • Rapid breath of bellows strengthen the lungs.

Precautions while Performing Bellows Breath

  • People with high blood pressure needs to be a little more cautious while doing it and should perform Bhastrika pranayama only in slow pace i.e. samanya gati.
  • As this practice generates heat in our body, make sure you are not pushing yourself to exceed the heat limit as everyone’s capacity is different.
  • Beginners should take breaks after every couple of rounds.
  • Feeling nauseous or faintness indicates the practice has not been performed in the correct manner. So stop it doing when if you are feeling the same.
  • Try to not overdo the practice in summers, especially people ruled by fire i.e. pitta dosha

Contraindications

  • People with a hernia, high blood pressure, severe heart disease, epilepsy, seizures, panic disorder or major back problems should avoid practicing this pranayama due to its high pace demand.
  • Do not practice it just after a meal or at least before 2-3 hours of a meal.
  • People with respiratory problems or lungs related issues should pay much attention to consulting a doctor before getting started with the practice.

Conclusion

Bhastrika Pranayama is a very strong practice when it comes to having a good state of mind with a calm and relaxed approach.

It is a very good solution for people who are ruled by their emotions as this practice provides a lot of stability to your thoughts and mental state.
In all, it is a very good practice to be involved in your daily routine preferably early in the mornings.

References

  1. Oxygen Consumption Changes With Yoga Practices: A Systematic Review [source]
  2. Immediate effect of slow pace bhastrika pranayama on blood pressure and heart rate [source]

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