If it weren’t for bellows breathing,
I could go the entire day without actually waking up.

We’ve been talking about pranayama, the breathwork limb of yoga. I can’t move on to
anything else without paying tribute to Bellows Breath, or Bhastrika pranayama, which is designed to WAKE US UP.

My morning practice begins with a
couple of minutes of alternate-nostril breathing, just to remind me
that my brain has two hemispheres, something that comes as a surprise
more often than not.

Then, seated but still half asleep, I
begin bellowing. (Is that a word? It is now.) The bellows breath cycle is rapid,
from-the-diaphragm, in-and-out breathing. I focus on the exhalation and the contraction of my belly, and allow the inhalation and the
big-basketball belly to take care of themselves.

When I was introduced to this
breathing, 15 seconds was enough, doing one inhale-exhale cycle or so
per second. Beyond that, all hell would break loose. I’d lose the
coordination between my breath and my belly as though one of them
had just derailed and had completely lost sight of the other.

These days I do three or four rounds
of a minute or so each, at something like two inhale-exhale cycles
per second. (This morning, I read that Andrew Weil, M.D., one of
breathwork’s greatest fans, says you can aim for three cycles
per second. That sounds absurdly fast to me. I can hardly wait to
try it tomorrow.)

Because of the hugely invigorating
nature of bellows breathing, it comes with all the usual warnings to
sit, not stand, and to avoid doing it while mountain biking or during
scary movies, etc.

But, oh, some kind of gate opens when bellowing. Inside three
minutes, you are awake. And feel so alive. It’s not a bad way to start the

Thanks for all your interest in
pranayama. Thanks to yoga for encouraging us to breathe, and thanks
to you for the conversation,


Kristin Shepherd is a chiropractor, actor, and speaker (About All
Things Wonderful) in North Bay, Ontario.  Join her on the
and on
and on

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