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Focus on the breath, this International Yoga Day

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Through the ongoing pandemic, everybody, from the conventional medical practitioner to the traditional alternative therapist, agrees on one thing - breathing exercises are important. It strengthens the lungs and builds the body’s defences against the Coronavirus, controls its effects if it does catch, and helps recovery. Most informed hospital sites worldwide have put up breathing exercises on their online advisory platforms.

Before I take you through the simple breathing practices to strengthen your lungs, it is important to learn that yoga is a healing practice that needs to become a habit. I will share something from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. He suggests that if you are struggling with a new practice, you need to have a dedicated corner for it. If you use the same space to eat, sleep, work and exercise, your brain will scramble the information and detract you from doing what you wish to do. So create your own yoga corner at home to build this habit. It just needs to be as big as your yoga mat and can be accessorised the way you like.

Please note: All these practices need expert guidance. They need to be modified depending on individual fitness levels. Any time you are uncomfortable stop the practice or reduce the intensity.

Belly breathing or Apana pranayama, downward flowing  breath practice:
This may be done lying down supine, prone, seated or even standing. It requires you to place one palm on the belly and watch the flow of inhalation and exhalation (While prone you may fold arms at elbows in the classic crocodile pose/makarasana). After a while, you may notice that the breathing has acquired a deep, relaxed and rhythmic pattern. You may try to ensure that the  inhalation and exhalation are even. After you reach this stage you may breathe in and out to a set number of seconds, starting at 2:2 ratio, increasing up to 4:4. The length of the breath  at this stage is 

Shameem Akhtar is a renowned yoga practitioner based in Mumbai. Photography by Meghna Bhalla

not as important as the evenness of breathing.

Benefits: The best practice to remove the adverse impact of stress in the body. Promotes deep relaxation and confident respiratory conditions.  

Kapalabhati or skull cleanser practice:
Hands in chin mudra, body in any meditative posture. Do a deep inhalation and exhalation. Then, softly exhale continuously for 10 counts. This is one round. Do three rounds. You may increase the counts to 30 in each round over a week. Then, slowly phase it towards an increase to 60 counts over a few days or weeks, depending on individual capacity. Note: Avoid if you  have high BP, cardiac, or inflammatory conditions. There should be no exertion, including in the face (or you may  get wrinkles).

Benefits: Boosts immunity, decongests lungs, expands lung volume, releases stress by hyperventilating. 

Through the ongoing pandemic, everybody, from the conventional medical practitioner to the traditional alternative therapist, agrees on one thing - breathing exercises are important. So, today on International Yoga Day, Shameem Akthar, yoga instructor and author, leads us through a few breathing exercises that you can do every day to strengthen your lungs.

Nadi Shodhana or energy channel purification practice:
Sit in any meditative posture. Right hand, index and middle finger pressed down, in Vishnu mudra. Left hand, tips of index finger and thumb touching. Right thumb shuts the right nostril. Inhale from left nostril to a count of four, hold the breath to a count of 4 by using the other fingers as well. Exhale from the right to a count of four, hold breath to a count of four. Then exhale from  left nostril to a count of 4. These 6 steps constitute  one round. After  a few days/ weeks this ratio may be tweaked to 1: 4: 2, starting with 4 counts inhalation, 16 counts  retention, 8 counts exhalation. Note: Never strain, allow your lungs time to acclimatize to this powerful practice.

Benefits: Balances the right, left brain hemispheres. Prevents, controls stress-induced track of diseases. Regulated breathing restores homeostasis in the body, helping it rejuvenate, restore and repair itself faster.

Bhramari or humming  bee practice:
Sit in any meditative posture. Inhale deeply. And hum softly for as long as is comfortable. This is one round. You may do up to 9 rounds.

Benefits: Tissue regeneration. Neural tissue repair. Healing. De-stressing.

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