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Bellows Breath

Bellows Breath is an energizing breathing exercise (pranayama) thought to increase mental activity producing an alert & calm state; increase the flow of blood & prana (life force) throughout the body; increase digestive power; boost metabolism; improve reaction time; reduce basal heart rate and release oxytocin.

Bellows Breath (bhastrika) is an energizing yoga breathing exercise (pranayama) thought to:

  • increase blood flow & prana (life force) throughout the body
  • increase mental activity producing an alert & calm state
  • increase digestive power
  • boost metabolism
  • reduce basal heart rate
  • release oxytocin and prolactin

MECHANISM OF ACTION Bellows breath (bhastrika) is a traditional breathing exercise (pranayama) in yoga thought to have an activating role on the CNS due to vagus nerve stimulation. Bhastrika is a controlled form of hyperventilation which involves forced abdominal contractions to expel air (excess carbon dioxide) out of the lungs. When practiced after breath retention (kumbhaka), bhastrika helps to regulate blood gases, reduce blood pressure & heart rate.

INDICATIONS & USAGE Practice bhastrika PRN (as needed) to increase energy and reduce symptoms of depression. Best time to practice is in the morning or midday.

DOSAGE & ADMINISTRATION Practice bhastrika in a seated position starting with 20 breaths at a moderate pace working up eventually to 1 breath/second. Rest for 30 seconds. Practice 2 more rounds of 20.  Practice bellows breath first thing in the morning. Avoid practicing on a full stomach. Wait at least 2 hours after a heavy meal.

CONTRAINDICATIONS Do not practice bhastrika if you are pregnant, have uncontrolled hypertension, epilepsy, seizures or panic disorder.

PRECAUTIONS/WARNINGS 

  • Bellows Breath (bhastrika) temporarily elevates blood pressure (BP). However, upon completion blood pressure is generally lower than the original resting rate. If you feel dizzy or agitated after the 1st round of the exercise, do not practice the last 2 rounds. 
  • Bhastrika should be practiced in a seated position only.
  • Breathe at a moderate pace (1 breath/second). Rapid breathing can create an overstimulating effect which could increase anxiety levels or trigger a manic response in individuals with BiPolar I (with manic tendencies)
  • Avoid practicing close to bedtime. This pranayama is an energizing practice and may make it difficult for you to fall asleep.

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RESOURCES

BOOKS

Yoga as Medicine. Timothy McCall MD
Yoga for Depression. Amy Weintraub
Yoga Skills for Therapists. Amy Weintraub
The Principles and Practice of Yoga and Healthcare ~ Sat Bir Singh Khalsa

CLINICAL STUDIES

Bhavanani et al. Acute Effect of Mukh Bhastrika (a yogic bellows type breathing) on Reaction Time. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 2003; 47(3): 297–300
Veerabhadrappa SG Effect of yogic bellows on cardiovascular autonomic reactivity. J Cardiovasc Dis Res. 2011 Oct-Dec; 2(4): 223–227.

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