In this article you will learn about three of the most impactful practices to keep you bright, healthy and functional on all levels. They are simple, quick and very effective to do on a daily basis once you learn them correctly and practice them regularly (There is always a learning curve at the beginning so be patient with yourself). 

If you are looking for exercises that get the most outcome for little effort in terms of general wellbeing, feeling good in and connected to your body, these would be on the list. And in this article I

  • describe all three of them
  • give you the benefits and
  • link to a video that demonstrates the technique for you.

At the end of the article you can find a 7-minute video to practice along. That means you can get started today.

If you want to know more or have any questions, always feel free to ask us directly at the shala or come to one of our pranayama courses.

First practice: Nauli Kriya/Uddiyana Kriya

This is the one where your belly starts dancing... and it provides the deepest abdominal massage you can get. You actually have to see how this exercise looks, as descriptions will not give you the idea if you have never seen it before.

It might look weird but if you give it some thought you realize quickly that it requires your body to work in ways that will be very beneficial to your health and well-being. It literally massages the abodminal organs, sqeezing and then releasing the tissues, pushes lymph fluid and residue out of the tissues. It requires subtle and sequential control over the abdominal muscles and also plays with the internal pressure of your whole abdominal and chest cavity. 

To do it, first the diaphragm is raised upwards which creates a vacuum-like suction that pulls the abdominal wall up. Then the rectus abdominus is isolated and pushed out and moved in a wavelike motion from side to side. To learn this fully might take between 1 day and 1 year... but start trying every morning after waking up and with your stomach empty and you will make defnite progress.

One of my teachers once remarked: "If I would be limited to recommend only one single pratice to you, it would be Nauli."

Benefits include:

  • Improving digestion and alleviating constipation
  • Massaging all abdominal organs
  • Balancing internal pressure

But what is even more important is that you get a strong center and subtle control over your whole abdominal region. This helps in various things, including movement, physical and mental balance, and general well-being. It’s also creates confidence to know that you are in control of your body. Plus, by daily practice, you actually get a very direct sense of what’s happening in your belly which affects your food choices and improves your sense of how calm or stressed you are on any given day, which ultimately leads to better choices in your daily affairs.

Get started by it watching this video (Link to YOUTUBE).

Then keep progressing to the actual churning motion, which is explained step by step here (Link to YOUTUBE).

Note: Don’t do this practice during your period, when you are pregnant or wish to conceive, or when your intuition tells you not to do it. Also be careful if you have any heart problem, ulcers, hernia or glaucomea, as the internal pressure changes during the practice. This is a good challenge for the body if its sufficiently healthy. But if you already have an existing condition, better check with your doctor first.

Second Practice: Kapalabhati

This is one if not the most important preparatory exercise for any pranayama practitioner. It is done by pumping the breath with your lower belly while keeping the upper belly and diaphragm relaxed. Important is that the exhalation is actively pumped out, while the inhalation happens completely passively: As the lower belly relaxes, the lung volume expands and draws fresh air in. Ideally you start slowly and get the technique just right before you increase the speed.

Kapalabhati when done correctly is said to:

  • Support the moving-along of lymphatic liquids to aid in detoxification of the body
  • Relaxes the diaphragm and keeps the body and nervous system calm while driving fresh oxygen into the body, 
  • Balance pH-levels in the body 
  • Supports and improves functioning of abdominal organs and cleanses the lungs
  • Supports brain function and thinking clearly which might have contributed to the name, which actually means "shining skull".

And just like with Nauli, you gain control over your entire abdominal region and learn to separate upper and lower abominal muscles. Knowing how to do this helps in keeping a strong core without restricting long deep breathing while maintaining the ability to bend and move the body as you like it. If you ever saw an advanced yoga practitioner demonstrating her skills you might have wondered how one can bend and wrench the body while being stable and still breathing calmly… and this practice is one of the basics for this.

When done incorrectly, in may lead to light-headedness and actually create stress so make sure to watch this video: https://youtu.be/_OHiMJ7WD38 (Link to YOUTUBE)

Note: Don’t do this practice during your period, when you are pregnant or when your intuition tells you not to do it.

Third Practice: Alternate Nostril Breathing

This is one of the primary yogic breathing techniques. If you have ever heard of a pranayama technique, it was most likey this one.

Done correctly, it creates a balance between the right and left hemisphere of the body by alternatly breathing through different nostrils in and out.

To do it, fold your index and middle finger of your favorite hand in towards your palm. Then (in case you are using your right hand) use your thumb to close your right nostril, your ringfinger to close your left nostril.

After exhaling, you start the first round by:

  • Breathing in through your left nostril
  • exhaling through your right nostril
  • inhaling through your right nostril
  • exhaling through your left nostril

The nostril that your are not breathing through is closed by softly placing your finger on it. To do this, fold your index and middle finger of your favorite hand in towards your palm. Then (in case you are using your right hand) use your thumb to close your right nostril, your ringfinger to close your left nostril.

The balancing benefits of this type of breathing include: 

  • Balance between the left and right brain hemisphere
  • Balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic dominance in your nervous system
  • Balance between anabolic and catabolic funtions
  • Balance between lunar (relativistic) and solar (fundamentalistic) mindsets 

You may do this with a simple 1:1 ratio of breathing (e.g. 4 seconds inhalation, 4 seconds exhalation) or with the exhalation being double the duration of the inhalation (1:2, e.g. 4 seconds inhalation, 8 seconds exhalation).

Always use a comfortable length of inhalation and exhalation and never feel strained while doing breathing exercises. These practices are to alleviate stress, not create additional tension in our bodies and minds :)

7 Minute Guided Practice

In the video linked below, I guide you through 5 minutes of practice, which I recommend you do every morning. 

We will do Nauli, Kapalabhati and Alternate Nostril breathing together. 

Let's practice together: Watch the video on YouTube now!

Once you know the sequence, stop watching the video and just focus on your internal experience while doing these practices.

During Menstruation, skip all the practices that put pressure on your belly and just do simple breathing (for example 4-4 counted breathing) or any practice that your yoga teacher has suggested to you. 

Want to learn to use your breath to create more calm, release stress & support your health?

Join us at GaiaYoga - 1 day Intro-to-pranayama-workshop and 4 weeks of follow up to get you started

You also have the option to keep learning in 2 follow-up workshops in April and July.

Click here to learn about the Pranayama-Course. It includes 3 One-Day-Workshops (plus a 4th one just for teachers). You can book them individually. After each workshop, you can develop your practice at home and come in once a week, so we can check your practice and give you personal guidance. Apply by writing to tom@gaia-yoga.com

You can also follow Tom and GaiaYoga Shala on Instagram to get regular ideas and updates for your practice.

If you have any questions, write us an email or join us at GaiaYoga for one of our classes. We love to answer your questions in person at the shala.


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