Here along the Rio Grande, we reckon Fall from the first Golden Cottonwoods. The leaves turn and fall as a result of days shortening. The decreasing light means that soon there won’t be enough light for the leaves to perform photosynthesis, so the food factories shut down, revealing the underlying chemical processes as colors.
Our bodies respond similarly to the shortening days and cooling nights, and you may feel as if your own factory has gone off-line. Yoga can help you respond with a combination of gentleness and warmth, gentleness to give ourselves the rest and reflection called for by the season, and warmth to keep your energy, circulation and mood up.
Fall is a great time to introduce strong standing poses, hip openers – best to clean out the basement before you hang out with the relatives for the holidays – and warming breaths. Two pranayam for warmth and energy are kalabhati and Bhastrika. Bhastrika is accomplished by generating forceful inhalations as well as exhalations, using all the muscles of respiration, intercostals as well as abdominals. I’ve seen Bhastrika described as a combination of kalabhati and ujayii breathing, but I think this leaves out an important distinction. While both kinds of pranayam call for forceful exhalation, in bhastrika the inhalation is just as energetic and so the inhale and exhale are equal in length. Contrast this to kalabhati – or skull shining breath – during which the inhale is passive and so much shorter between rapid, energetic bursts of exhalation through the nose.
While kalabhati is generated primarily from the transverse abdominus – the low belly, between the pelvic crests – relaxing and contracting, thus changing abdominal pressure and so diaphragm position, Bhastrika is generated from expanding and contracting the entire torso, directly recruiting the muscles of the rib cage, as well as the upper abdominals.
Use care always and consider beginning any pranayam with a qualified teacher. Do not undertake these breathing practices if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure or glaucoma.
Bhastrika is warming and awakening, fantastic for first thing in the morning, or if you’re feeling extra drowsy for meditation or that meeting they always schedule after lunch. Because of the exertional nature, you’ll be working your core in 360 degrees. For this same reason, go slow. Start with a breath every 2 seconds, 10 breaths, increasing speed and duration as it becomes old hat. Bhastrika is controlled hyperventilation, so stay attuned to your experience and take a break if you’re feeling dizzy or anxious. hyperventilation is only deleterious when you don’t expel enough carbon dioxide on the exhale – as when people spontaneously hyperventilate from anxiety and their hands, feet and mouth tingle because of trapped CO2. However, since you’re attending to your exhalation, cultivating length and smoothness, you won’t face this phenomenon. If you feel anxious from the increased oxygen or workload, take a break. If you feel the tingling, slow down and make your inhalation and exhalation the same length.
Bhastrika helps to clear phlegm, works against inflammation, stokes your digestive fire, and keeps the body lubricated, making it an ideal Pranayam for your Fall yoga practice. Let me know how it works for you!