Breathing Exercises: Sizzle In The Cold

Winter is making herself known across the northern hemisphere with temps consistently below freezing. What are you doing to stay warm?

My typical routine involves hot teas and puffy jackets. But, I was recently inspired by my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Leigh Taylor Mallis, to add another layer. Leigh shared that she’s been teaching her two young daughters yogic breathing exercises to stay warm at the bus stop.

This set off a light bulb! Being comfortable during the colder months is not just about preventing heat from escaping. It’s also about building heat from the inside out.

breath, pranayama, heat

The good news here is that even though we might need to leave the blankets at home when we head to the office or run to the grocery store, we can stay warm if we know how to jump start our inner furnace.

As any girl scout worth a thin mint cookie knows, heat builds from the inside out & the magic ingredient for sparking a fire is just a little friction.

girl scout, campfire, heat

No matter how cold our fingers and ears may feel, unless something is seriously awry, we’re a blistering 98.5 at our core. So, how can we get the inner fire to catch & spread? Pranayama.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prana or breath” or “extension of the life force”.

lungs, pranayama, breath

In certain pranayama techniques or breathing exercises, the breath is drawn out by subtle constrictions of the physical body. When an area is constricted or contracts, the energy or breath flowing through that space is required to vibrate at a higher frequency, and in turn builds heat.

Here are my 3 favorite pranayama or breathing techniques that can heat the body, increase blood flow and release tension:

Ujjayi Breath 
This is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly, ascends to the rib cage, and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. The inhale and exhale are both done through the nose with a closed mouth.

The ocean sound is created by contracting the glottis as air passes in and out of the nose. As the throat passage is narrowed the air creates a “rushing” sound. Take these slow, steady breaths for at least one minute.

Kapalabhati Breath 
Begin to focus on forceful exhalations, pulling your belly in and up as you breathe out. Let the release of the belly happen naturally and a short inhale will automatically follow. Pump through 20 short exhalations, then take a long deep inhale, hold for a beat, and release. Continue for three to five rounds.

kapalbhati, breath, yoga

Right Nostril Breathing
Traditionally, this is said to stimulate the brain and increase body heat. Our right nostril is associated with our body’s heating energy, symbolized by the “Sun”, our left nostril with our body’s cooling energy, symbolized by the “Moon”. The purpose of this breath is to create balance by warming a cool body-mind (and vice versa).

Sit comfortably, block your left nostril and inhale through your right. Then close the right and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner, inhale right, exhale left, for one to three minutes.

The easiest way to block your nostrils is to use the thumb and index finger of your dominant hand to gently pinch your nose, holding down only one side at a time as pictured.

These can be incorporated into any fitness routine, regardless of your gender, age or experience. Are you ready to heat things up?

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