Pranayama for Depression

Pranayama for Depression, Stress, Anxiety, and Energy

Pranayama – literally “life-force control” – are powerful techniques for shifting your consciousness, purifying mind and body, and raising your energy. Pranayama is a core part of several types of Yoga. Advanced practices should only be done with a qualified teacher. Some Pranayama techniques are fairly simple to learn, and I will briefly review some of them here.

Caution: If you are diagnosed (or suspect) Bipolar Disorder, avoid intensive pranayama, and do so only with mindfulness and moderation, or with a teacher’s guidance. If you feel your energy rising too much, or your mind becomes too active, stop immediately and seek consultation. Forceful abdominal breathing should also not be done if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease (such as asthma), hernia or gastric ulcers, without expert guidance.

The following are safe and very beneficial types of pranayama for depression, anxiety, and for general health and wellness:

1. Nadi Shodhana – Alternate nostril breathing: (Balances the subtle life energy of the body and the two sides of the brain, calms the mind and increases vitality; a good basic pranayama for depression and emotional imbalance). Sit comfortably with head and spine straight, close your eyes and relax. Close one nostril with the thumb, breathe a long slow breath (always from the belly) through the open nostril. Then, pausing for a moment, remove the thumb and cover the other nostril with the ring and pinky fingers, and slowly exhale through the open nostril. Then inhale back into that same open nostril, cover it with the thumb again, and exhale through the other side. And so on for several rounds. (Rest the middle and index fingers between the brows). Keep the length of breath even. Try counting to 4 in, and 4 out. To alleviate anxiety and nervousness, inhale to a count of 4, and exhale for a count of 8.

2. Surya Bheda – Right-Nostril Breathing – (Especially good pranayama for depression, with lethargy, dullness, difficulty in communication and withdrawal from the external world).

Note: Running parallel to the most important, central pathway of subtle energy in the spine – called the “Sushumna Nadi,” are two intertwining pathways called the “Ida” and “Pingala.” The Ida is the “feminine” energy channel, leading to introspection, introversion, cooling, and calming and is connected to the left nostril, and left side of the body. It is associated with the moon. The Pingala is the “masculine” energy channel, leading to extroversion, connection with the world, outward expression/verbal expression, and physical vitality. It is connected with the right nostril, and right side of the body, and is associated with the sun or “Surya.”

Placing the right hand in front of the face as above – cover the left nostril with the ring finger. Inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril. At the end of the inhalation, close both nostrils, hold the breath in and gently lower the chin towards the chest (called the chin lock or “jalandhara bandha”), and gently tighten the perineum (called the root lock, or “moola banda”). This is the muscle of the pelvic floor – where you tighten when you have to go to the bathroom. Hold the breath for just a few seconds if you are a beginner. Then release the root lock, raise the head again releasing the chin lock, and exhale through the right nostril, while continuing to block the left nostril with the ring finger. Do this for at least 10 rounds.

3. Kapalabhati – “Skull Shining Breath,” “Frontal Brain Cleansing Breath” – (Another excellent practice of pranayama for depression, especially when anxiety is present; good for calming the mind, decreasing thoughts, energizing the mind and body). Sit upright with closed eyes. Relax. Inhale deeply through both nostrils, expanding the belly without straining, and then exhale forcefully and quickly by contracting the abdominal muscles. Then allow the inhalation to come naturally, passively with no effort. Again, exhale forcefully, and inhale passively. Do this 10 times, and then take several slow deep breathes in and out. Do this for a few rounds. Then sit still and focus on the point between the eyebrows, just being present and relaxed.

4. Bhastrika – “Bellows Breath” - (A very effective pranayama for depression and anxiety; detoxifies the body and purifies the mind; creates internal heat and stimulates metabolism; good for weight loss; Balances and strengthens the nervous system, inducing a peaceful and focused state of mind).

Relaxing, seated with closed eyes and straight spine, prepare first by taking a few forceful, deep breaths of equal length, both in and out, through both nostrils together. Pump the breath from the belly (diaphragm), expanding the belly out as you inhale, and snapping it back towards the spine as you exhale.

Now with the right hand, close the right nostril with the thumb. Breathe in and out forcefully but without strain, through the left nostril 10 times, using only the diaphragm. (Chest and shoulders are still). After 10 breaths, inhale slowly and deeply through the left again, this time expanding up into the chest, and hold the breath in, holding both nostrils closed. Retain the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale through the left nostril.

Repeat this for the right nostril – 10 breaths, and then inhale and hold for a few seconds, and exhale through the right.

Now with both nostrils open, breathe in and out forcefully with both sides for 10 breaths. Inhale slowly and deeply through both, hold a few seconds while closing both nostrils, and then exhale through both. This is one round. Do this for up to five rounds to start. Start with slow breaths. As you advance, breaths can become faster. Do not strain, or create excessive discomfort or pressure. Be gentle.

{If any Pranayama exercises cause you to feel faint, perspire excessively, or feel nauseated afterwards, discontinue and seek the guidance of a yoga teacher}.

5. Ujjayi Pranayama – “Victory Breath” “Ocean Breath” or “Psychic Breath” – This breath is very important and has numerous benefits. An excellent pranayama for depression, anxiety and stress. Ujjayi is very calming and soothing to the nervous system and this type of breathing can be done during meditation, for added benefit and to lengthen the breath.

There is a slight constriction of the glottis, in order to produce a soft whispering sound in the back of the throat. It soothes the nervous system, calms the mind, relaxes the body, relieves insomnia and slows the heart rate.

The sound should be barely audible to another person, buy you should hear it inside your own body easily. The whisper is produced on both the in and out-breath. (Think "Darth Vader" from Star Wars).

6. Dirga – Yogic three-part breathing: This natural breath is very important for overall well-being, stress reduction and for meditation. Simply breathe into the belly first, expanding the diaphragm as you inhale. Next extend into the solar plexus (just below the rib cage), and last expand gently into the chest, with only slight expansion of the rib cage. Reverse this to exhale – emptying from the chest first, and the belly last. This breath is used for most forms of meditation which I will explain in more detail later.

7. Breath of Fire: Vigorous and energizing. Another great pranayama for depression, fatigue, and stress.

Breathe forcefully and more quickly – inhaling through the nose and exhaling with the same force and speed, through the nose again. Similar to Bhastrika, with equal force both in and out of both nostrils together. The diaphragm works like a pump, expanding and contracting with much more force than you would for Dirga.

Pranayama for Depression and other Yogic Practices

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