Bird Pranayama – Breathing Lessons

Flying birds look like a smile

We don’t have any trees in our backyard.

If the neighbors’ trees did not love extending their branches over the twelve foot wall to touch our house, the morning sun would beam straight into our bedroom room.  Just as we appreciate the trees’ shelter, the birds love congregating among the leaves.

This morning, just as the dawn crept around the blackout curtains, a bird began his morning singing.  Despite the air conditioner’s roar, his effort pierced my sleep.

Tired, I felt like cursing him, but held my thoughts and listened, waiting for him to go away.

His song was full of effort.  In my mind’s eye, I could see him deeply inhaling as if lifting his wings up into the sky, then vigorously closing them, forcing the air through his entire body.  The force produced his loud chirp.  He continued at least five minutes.

It reminded me of the pranayama, or breathing exercise, I did the previous evening in my yoga class.

As we lifted our arms above our heads, we inhaled.  Then quickly, and with strength, we pulled our arms down to our sides, releasing the breath.  It was a very vigorous exercise.

The bird slowed down and I listened, wondering whether he was finished.

But he was not.

His breathing evened out and became quieter as he inhaled deeply, then let his exhale gently carry the song.  The pace reminded me of nadi shodana breathing.

After a few minutes of nadi shodana, he started his third round, the vigorous bhastrika.

For the bhastrika  or bellows breath, the inhale is rather quiet as the effort goes towards strongly contracting the abdomen, forcing the air out the nostrils.  It is considered to be an advanced breathing technique.  Unlike me, the bird was quite an expert and did several rounds without passing out.

I knew the ancient yogis used to look to nature – the plants, birds and animals – for answers to their deepest questions.  In the morning sun, the bird gathered his prana for the day.  And I wondered – was it the study of birds the led the yogis to create pranayama, a breathing exercise said to revitalize the body?

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