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Breath of Fire

Personal practice: This week I have been mainly... working with Breath of Fire.

OK I'll own up at that start that this is a bit of an untruth. I have been working with breath of fire pretty solidly for a few weeks now... and I do make an effort to incorporate it into my regular morning routine.

What is Breath of Fire?

Breath of Fire is a yoga Pranayama or breathwork technique that focuses on using the movement of the abdominal wall to generate short, sharp exhales and short involuntary inhales. It's also known as Kapalabhati Breath (see how it's practiced here) which translates from sanskrit as 'shining skull breath' because it helps to move the energy up the body from the base of the spine towards the top of the skull (or if you'd rather, from the root chakra to the crown chakra).

Similar to breathwork techniques outside of yoga, such as the Wim Hof method, the Breath of Fire helps to oxygenate the blood and get the body ready for action. With Breath of Fire we can take a breath retention of Kumbhaka either on an inhale OR an exhale at the end of the pranayama, during which you may notice the body and or mind settling, feel the blood and the oxygen moving throughout the body, and or notice a sense of peace, calm or expansion.

Why do you practice Breath of Fire?

Breath of Fire is a fantastic activation technique for the body, especially in the morning when feeling sleepy or sluggish, and it's also great for aiding the digestion and massaging the internal organs.

It not only helps to open up your energy in the sense of getting the oxygen into and around the body, getting the blood moving, opening the spine and stimulating the vagus nerve to get the chemical and electrical energy systems of the body in motion, it also directly stimulates the large and small intestines which do the literal extraction of energy from the food we eat. So it's a real powerhouse of a practice for getting the body primed and ready for the day ahead!

How long does it take to get the hang of Breath of Fire?

OK I'll admit that Breath of Fire is not a yoga practice you're likely to find in a beginner class. Although a really good beginner yoga course will probably include the technique towards the end!

Breath of Fire isn't exactly hard, in my experience it just takes a combination of co-ordination, confidence and determination to get to grips with it. I don't have much of the first one, but luckily quite a lot of the other two, so I got the hang of it within a few days of regular practice. For some folks it will be quicker and others will be slower- all of which is fine! Also for some people (me included 🖐🏻) it's easier to practice at home on your own with no-one looking at you or expecting you to be 'good' at it in order to get the hang of the practice. For others it will be better to try it in class with others OR learn it 1-1 with a teacher. Finding what works for you will mean you get the hang of it more easily.

How often should you practice Breath of Fire?

As with all yoga practices, regular practice really does help in order to get the benefits or notice the changes that result from doing it.

Breath of Fire is an interesting case in point, because you will notice some things immediately as you practice (as long as you are reasonably familiar with the technique) but other benefits will take longer to develop (e.g. longer Kumbakha periods with an increased meditative quality).

I often hear Breath of Fire described as a 'strong' practice, which I think means that some people will find it very challenging and the effects are more noticeable than subtle. So if you find it a 'strong' practice, you may wish to do it less often (e.g. once per week) because there is a lot going on for you during a practice session.

On the other hand, if you are comfortable with the technique and or notice the effects more subtly then trying a more regular practice, perhaps even daily, could be beneficial to see how it develops.

Are there alternative ways to practice Breath of Fire?

Yes- there are different ways to take the practice and also some nice alternative techniques.

Traditionally Breath of Fire is practiced whist sitting (usually cross legged), but I was recently introduced to a technique that works the breath and the abdomen in the same way whilst standing. It combines the Daoist stance (soft knees, feet more than hip width apart and tailbone tilted under to allow the belly to fully expand) with the yoga breathing technique to take full advantage of doing it standing up. My teacher said she finds it more grounding than a seated Kapalabhati breath.

When seated, you’ll usually see people doing this practice with their hands on their knees or thighs, but a nice alternative is to do it with the hands on the belly, fingers facing the belly button, so you can softly prod the fingers in and up with the movement of the diaphragm. Or you can make claws with the hands and press the fingertips onto the belly with each exhale.

What if you don’t want to practice breath of fire?

Not everyone enjoys this practice and it can make you feel light headed. If you have asthma or high blood pressure, for example, you might want an alternative.

There are also other techniques, such as Bhastrika or bellows breath which can be a good alternative for focusing on the movement of the diaphragm, getting the benefits for the digestive system and the internal organs, without managing the forceful exhale/involuntary inhale business (also good for if you're a bit bunged up). In Bhastrika you may deliberately exahale AND inhale.

Want to get the benefits of learning Breath of Fire and developing a regular practice? Book a class or a 1-1 with me!

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