Bhastrika is a style of breathing employed by some yoga practitioners; the name comes from the Sanskrit word, which means bellows. This breathing technique is characterized by forceful inhalations and exhalations which create a sound similar to bellows. The ultimate goal of bhastrika is spiritual enlightenment, and some of the more immediate benefits are an increase in vitality, improved health, and an elevated mood.
Finding a comfortable seated position is the first step in the practice of bhastrika. The head, neck, and spine must be in perfect alignment in order to receive the greatest benefits from this form of pranayama, or breathing exercise. After this position has been achieved, the bhastrika pranayama can begin.
A novice to bellows breathing should begin with slow, normal breaths. The lungs should fill completely with air, and then all the air should be exhaled. As a person practices regularly and becomes more experienced in bhastrika, the rate of breathing should increase, and equal force should be added to each breath. While a beginner may take two or three seconds for each inhalation and exhalation, the experienced practitioner can breathe at a more rapid rate, with some able to breathe four times per second.
The beginner should gradually increase the breathing rate and not try to speed up too quickly, or else dizziness and hyperventilation can result. Someone new to this breathing technique should learn from an experienced teacher. This will ensure the pranayama is being done correctly and will help the person achieve the most benefits from the exercise.
Most practitioners of bhastrika breathe through both nostrils. Some close one nostril, take some bellows breaths, then close the other nostril and repeat the exercise. Alternating breathing this way is useful when a person has a cold or allergy and one side of the nose is congested.
The most immediate benefit gained by the practice of bhastrika is increased oxygen intake. Regular practice can also help purify the blood and reduce stress. Some claim that it will cure asthma and problems with the sinuses, tonsils, and throat. Many believe that the regular practice of this breathing technique will prevent colds and cure many diseases.
Although this breathing practice can strengthen the heart and lower blood pressure, those who have a weak heart, high blood pressure, or lung problems should either avoid this technique or learn from a teacher experienced in working with people who have these health issues. Some believe that bellows breathing can also unclog arteries and prevent angina. When practiced under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher, just about anyone can benefit from this breathing technique.