The Four Purifications

These breathing exercises I learned from Nancy Gilgoff, she learned them from Baba Hari Dass. They are in the book “Ashtanga Yoga Primer” by Baba Hari Dass. They are known as “The Four Purifications” and help to clear the mind of stress and leave the body in a relaxed, content feeling; they are generally safe for everyone, but of course not recommended during pregnancy.  They are 2 breathing exercises and 2 bandha exercises.

Nadi Shodhana in the four purifications, Nadi Shodhana is explained in detail here – you place your right hand in Vishnu Mudra position on either side of your nostrils, your breath should be deep and slow; Inhale Left (closing the right nostril with your thumb), exhale Right (closing the the left nostril with your ring finger), Inhale Right, Exhale Left = L R R L. This is one round. Start by performing 10 rounds and gradually increase to as many as 30 rounds.

You can use your left hand for counting, at the start of each round use a finger to keep track of how many you have done.

Kapalabhati – full explanation here.
Means Forehead Shining. This is very different from our yogic breath, here we are trying to make the sound of our breath at our nose (instead of our chest) as in more of a SNIFF than a deep breath.  

You begin by taking a deep inhale, then expel your breath forcefully through your nose using your abdominal muscles to pump your breath (much like a cough).  You pump your abs abs on the exhale and relax on the inhale, so the inhale happens passively. Do 30 blasts, then take one recovery breath and repeat for a total of three rounds.

Kapalabhati helps to clear your mind and calm your thoughts, reducing stress.

Working with the bandhas in the last 2 purifications
This first exercise should not be done during menstruation, if you think you are pregnant or if you are trying to become pregnant.

Agnisara Dhauti (Agni = Fire, Sara = Cascade, Dhauti = Purification)

Take a deep inhale, then exhale all air out and hold. If this is new to you, do this a couple times to get used to holding your breath out. Once you are comfortable holding your breath out, exhale hold — lean forward place your hands on your knees — lift and drop your abdomen as many times as you can while comfortably holding your breath out. Work up to 30 pulls for three rounds.

Agnisara Dhauti strengthens your uddiyana bandha, purifies your 3rd chakra, stimulates our digestive fire, and eliminates constipation.

Ashvini Mudra
Ashvini means horse, the posture is named after a horse since the horse does this gesture after going to the bathroom.

Inhale completely and hold your breath in, contract and release the anal sphincter rapidly and repeatedly, only as long as you can comfortably hold your breath. Work up 30 pulls for 3 rounds, increase gradually to 60 pulls when 30 is easy.

Ashvini mudra strengthens the pelvic floor, improves mula bandha and pushes prana upward slowing down the aging process. This mudra can also be used to heal problems such as hemorrhoids and constipation.

Putting them all together:
After practicing all 4 purifications for 3-6 months you can put them together and practice them in a way that there are no “rest breaths” in between. For example:

  • Do 10 rounds Nadi Shodhana, after last exhale out Left nostril
  • Inhale partially through both nostrils and begin kapalabhati.
  • After 1 series inhale completely, exhale fully and HOLD your breath out
    do Agnisara Dhauti for 30 – 60 pulls
  • Inhale completely and HOLD your breath in, perform Ashvini Mudra for 30 pulls.
  • Exhale completely and begin again with Nadi Shodhana.
    Do a total of 5 rounds in this way.

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