How do you stay alert when that after-lunch dip hits or when you hit the after midnight lull that so many of us have the pleasure of experiencing on a regular basis? Coffee? Energy drinks? Energy shots? Cigarettes? Walks around the office or the block? Chat breaks? Gossip breaks? Complain breaks? Facebook? Shopping? Naps (impromptu and otherwise)?

Wow, those just flowed right out of me. At a certain point in my career, my answer would have easily been: (z) all of the above. After leaving my career as a corporate lawyer with my fantastic mission of spreading mental peace, who should the universe send me as yoga students and coaching clients but busy professionals experiencing many of the problems I did during my legal career. 

In the past few years I've put together a list of fun little tips that help those of us who need to create time and energy out of thin air. Here's my handy little trick for energizing the mind to get mental work done when all you really want is a vacation ... I mean, a nap. It's a yogic breathing technique called kapalabhati (Sanskrit for "shining skull").

This wonderful technique is not be to taken lightly, so I have broken down the directions into two categories: beginner and advanced. 

Beginner Practice
  • Sit upright in your chair, placing both feet evenly on the ground. Pull your spine up and roll your shoulders back. Make sure that your chin is parallel with the floor.
  • Close your eyes. Begin to inhale and exhale through your nose, filling your lower belly with each inhale and emptying it with each exhale. If you'd like, place your right hand on your lower belly to remind yourself that you're breathing into your belly, not your chest.
  • Once you've got the hang of the belly breaths, you're ready to begin. After a normal inhale, forcefully expel the air in your lower belly out of your nose on your exhale. Allow your next inhale to occur passively, coming in through the nose. Repeat this nine more times — an active forceful exhale, followed by a relaxed, passive inhale.
  • After completing your 10 breaths, close your eyes and breathe normally. You'll figure out why the breath is called "shining skull."
  • When you're ready, begin again. As a beginner, do three to five rounds of 10 breaths, closing your eyes and relaxing for a moment between rounds. (NOTE: Be sure that your inhalations and exhalations are focused on your lower belly. The rest of your body should be still, including the shoulders).
  • After your last round and rest. Open your eyes. Take a deep breath and get back to it, energized and with a clear mind.
Advanced Practice
  • Complete the first three steps above, increasing the number of kapalabhati breaths from 10 to 25.
  • Do three rounds of 25 breaths, resting between each by closing your eyes and breathing normally.
  • See step 6 above.
As you get better you may want to try one or two rounds of 50 breaths. And once you're really good, feel free to continue the breaths over a period of up to five minutes.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: This breathing practice is not recommended for people who suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy, hernia, or people who have had a stroke or gastric ulcer. It is also not recommended during pregnancy.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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