Last week, the local news began the annual alerts and predictions about the upcoming flu season. As one who foregoes the flu shot, I am particularly mindful at this time of year to practice techniques that relate to the immune system. In a few weeks, I also will be traveling by plane for the first time in many years: Because my body has not been exposed regularly to the unique array of germs that accompany air travel, I wanted to devise a potent routine to prepare and strengthen my immune system for the environmental and seasonal rigors that lie ahead. This practice does not require much time (roughly 15-20 minutes, including svasana); therefore, it could easily be integrated into your daily routine as a 40-day practice to jump-start your Winter wellness regime.
Each pranayama in this sequence requires you to sit in a variety of postures, so you may want to take a few minutes to warm and loosen your spine and hips. Once you feel ready to sit, come into a crossed-leg position. For 3 minutes, practice alternate-nostril breathing: To begin, block off your right nostril with your right thumb; inhale through the left. Then, close the left nostril with the ring finger, and exhale through the right. Continue by inhaling through the right, closing the right, and exhaling left; this concludes one round.
Special note: If the switching of the nostril seems confusing, it may help to note that you switch fingers/nostrils after each inhale.
For the second breathing technique, sit on your heels: Feel free to place a pillow between your buttocks and heels, and/or under your knees. Lengthen your spine up and out of the pelvis as best you can, and extend the arms over your head. Bring the palms together without interlacing the fingers. This can prove oddly challenging; it may help to lock one thumb over the other to ensure that the palms are connected. Try to lengthen through the elbows, so that the armpit and arm meridians are fully stretched and open.
In this position, inhale fully. Suspend the inhalation as you pump your stomach rapidly. The action is similar to what occurs in Breath of Fire; however, in this case the breath is held in. When you need to exhale, do so slowly and steadily. Then inhale to repeat the pumping action. Continue for 12 rounds.
For the final pranayama, you will remain sitting on the heels; however, angle your torso forward, and place your hands on the ground in front of and slightly wider than your knees. Inhale deeply through your nose as you arch your spine forward, allowing the head to drop back and stretch the throat area. Exhale powerfully through the mouth, tongue fully extended toward the chin, and chin dropping toward your chest as you round the spine back into a C shape. Move slowly at first, at whatever pace suits your spinal flexibility; then gradually increase the speed of your spinal flexing and breathing. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
Now you are ready for svasana. Before you fully enter into rest, give yourself a round of Vayus tapping. (You may recall that the Vayus are the five major subdivisions of Prana—capital P: prana—small p—is one vayu, found in the chest area, and the other four correlate with four other regions of the body.) On your back, eyes closed, begin tapping the center knobs of the collarbone with your fingertips, in order to stimulate udana vayu (throat and head).
Without breaking rhythm, move downward, beginning to tap the sternum (prana vayu). Again, after approximately10 quick raps to the area, move to the groin creases of each thigh (apana, or eliminative vayu); lightly thump with loose fists. Now begin to ascend, bringing light taps to the abdominal area (samana vayu, or assimilative/discriminative abilities). Conclude your tapping journey by bringing your hands to the back of the neck; vigorously tap up and down alongside the cervical vertebra for 20-30 seconds. This action is a short-cut way to stimulate vyana vayu, which oversees and connects the flow of all energy systems throughout the body.
Finally, rest your arms by your sides, with space between them and your body, palms up. Leave space between the legs, and let the feet flop open. For a few breaths, focus on complete, deep, steady inhalation and exhalation; consciously focus your closed eyes between the brows, connecting your energy flow to the spiritual awareness of the Third Eye. After a minute or so, let yourself float into soft, gentle svasana for 5-10 minutes, allowing your breath and inner gaze to find their natural homes.