For today’s practice, I have selected some pranayama techniques that, based on my experience, are superb aids for promoting immunity and digestion, and for taming tension. Consequently, this set may come to your rescue throughout the holiday season. Further, I have combined the breath patterns with some basic postures that will enhance the effects. (As always, if you need to support a pose with pillows or blankets, feel free.)
Most importantly, because this is a diverse pranayama practice, focus on the precision, depth, and completion of each breath and its accompanying movement or position. I find that one of the surest ways to create quality pranayama is to focus on the sound of your breathing: Once you have settled into the partner posture, shift your attention from your muscles and joints to the steady, full sound of your breath. Your eyes may remain closed throughout the practice, although you may feel steadier with them open for the initial standing movements.
To begin, stand solidly on your feet. Allow your legs to be wider than the hips, so that your foundation is firm; you may turn your toes out slightly if that is more comfortable. Your arms rest by your sides in natural Mountain Pose style. Inhale deeply: As you exhale, create a small bounce in your legs by bending the knees up and down; simultaneously, flex your wrists, so that the palms stretch, and the fingers point away from the body on both hands. Breathe out to a count of 4-8 little bounces, depending on your personal rhythm. Inhale into the initial position, hands loose, then repeat the exhale with the movement and hand stretch. Complete this opening exercise with one more round.
Still standing, place your hands on your waist; take 3 full inhales and exhales. Now begin to circle the torso to the right: Inhale through the back half of the circle; exhale as you move through the front space. Make 4-8 large circles with your entire upper body; repeat to the left. In kundalini, Torso Circles are known as a Master Exercise for the liver, part of the body’s deep-cleaning team.
Next, bring yourself to the floor to sit on your knees and heels in Rock Pose. This posture alone is helpful for the digestion; with the added pranayama, you will give all of the digestive organs a powerful boost. Stretch your arms straight up alongside the ears, palms facing each other (not together). Inhale fully, then exhale deeply, so that there is no more air to expel. On this “empty breath,” begin to pump the abdominal muscles; this will stimulate and massage the stomach. When you need to inhale, do so, then exhale and repeat the pumping action for as long as possible. Continue for 2 minutes.
Special note: If during the suspended breath exercises, you feel a need to yawn, go right ahead. Then, take a natural inhale and exhale before resuming the pranayama sequence.
If you can remain in Rock Pose, wonderful: If you need to change position, come into an easy crossed-leg pose. Regardless of your choice, interlace your fingers behind your neck in Venus Lock (right thumb under left for women; opposite for men). This exercise reverses the breath of the previous exerciseL Interlock the pinky fingers in front of the solar plexus; elbows are lifted and out to the sides. Inhale; suspend the breath while isometrically pulling the finger lock in opposite directions. When necessary, exhale completely, then inhale and repeat. Continue for 1 minute.
From your seated position, move onto all fours, and then into Downward Dog pose. Remember that it is not crucial to have the heels on the ground; if you want to work toward that, pedal the heels alternately up and down to dynamically stretch the Achilles tendons. The most important aspect of Down Dog is that your weight is balanced between the arms and legs: Often, folks load their shoulders; rather, bend the knees, lift the hips up and back, then straighten the legs. You want to feel that you are equally distributing your body weight throughout the posture. When you are set in the pose, breathe deeply for 5 complete inhales and exhales.
Next, return to a seated posture of your choice. Interlace the fingers behind the neck in Venus Lock (right thumb under left for women; opposite for men). Stretch the elbows back as much as possible; this will open the armpits, thereby invigorating the lymph nodes in that area. Inhale in the upright position; exhale as your bend forward to bring your forehead to the ground. Do your best; if you can not complete the forward bend, perhaps try a different seated pose, or bolster your hips up a bit. Also, you may find that the first minute begins to warm and loosen the hips and low backs, so that the remaining time allows you to fully execute the exercise. Inhale up, exhale down for 3 minutes.
Finally, move into Baby Pose, buttocks on heels, forehead on the floor, arms resting easily on the ground by your legs. Inhale through the nose, exhale through slightly parted lips. Continue this variation of Sitali breathing for up to 1 minute, and then help yourself into svasana. Cover yourself, in order to fully consolidate and integrate the abundance of healthy energy you have generated with your practice.