As Wim Hof and shamanic breathing practitioners already know, repeated deep breathing can often feel like a psychedelic experience.
Pushup Pranayama combines conscious, full breathing with a classic strength-building exercise. The result is an absolutely prana-popping sequence that will reset your day.
I like to practice this technique:
- Right before meditation 🧘🏽 (a bit of pre-meditation pranic plumbing, it ain’t much, but it’s honest work)
- A few rounds as a morning routine before coffee ☕
- As a warm-up before strength training 🏋️♂️ or martial arts 🥋
Pushup Pranayama has a plethora of health benefits as it combines the best of both worlds: a classic strength-building exercise with deep full breathing and breath retention. Here are a few proven benefits of this practice (this list is by no means exhaustive):
- Increases lung capacity
- Improves posture
- Increases functional strength (full body activation)
- Enhances cardiovascular system
- Boosts immune system
- Increases willpower
- Improves concentration
- Boosts energy level / reduces fatigue
- Rapidly increases muscle definition
- Stimulates blood circulation in the abdomen and blood flow to the brain
- Human body containing lungs (if you do not have one, please DM @amargi.life)
- Mango 🥭 (optional, but highly recommended)
How to do a Proper Pushup
Pushup Pranayama emphasises alignment over number of reps – form is of tantamount importance. It is preferable to do less reps with a focus on perfect internal and external body position than many reps with lackadaisical form.
You see, the problem with pushups is that they work. No matter who you are, if you do enough pushups you will undeniably build muscle.
The question is – are those new muscles built around and supporting a properly aligned spine thus improving your life or are they re-enforcing and even exacerbating poor posture and alignment leading to massive prana blockage?
That is why we must place a deliberate focus on alignment. Even if you only do one proper pushup you will get the health benefits, and over time you will build up the strength required to increase the number of these perfect-form pushups.
Without further ado, here are some proper pushup guidelines:
- Imagine a line of energy connecting your heels to your crown. Either end of this line is pulling away from each other. Maintain this engagement throughout the entire pushup motion.
- Suck your belly inward and upward (aka Uddiyana Bandha). Try to maintain this as best you can throughout the pushup motion. Performing Uddiyana Bandha while doing a pushup is very challenging, so be patient with yourself. The ability will improve with practice.
- Spread your fingers and engage them by pushing them individually into the ground throughout the pushup motion
- When you ascend in the pushup, push into the ground and inflect the shoulders at the top of the motion. Feel the space open up in our upper back and rib cage before descending again.
- When you descend in the pushup keep the arms tight into the torso and hinge the elbows backwards. Maintain spinal alignment as much as possible. This is challenging and will improve with time and practice.
How to Breathe
1) Breathe Fully into the Belly, Chest and Head (in that order)
Body shapes breathe and breathe shapes mind. Breathing is something that all of us do, yet few of us do properly.
Indeed, widespread use of smartphones has only exacerbated the issue on a species-wide level, as we spend more time hunched over. Bad posture restricts airflow in the lungs, leading to prana blockage. When our prana is stuck, we feel sad, slow, tired, irritated and small.
Typical post-2007 Homo Sapien posture promotes prana blockage
Pushups with a focus on form builds musculature that promotes a healthy, aligned spine and naturally you will be able to breathe better over time.
Now we are going to address the internal mechanics of breathing itself. The correct way to breathe in Pushup Pranayama is fully and deeply through the nostrils observing the air filling the belly, chest then head. Exhale, also through the nostrils, by forcefully contracting the abs inwards towards the straight and relaxed spine.
This breathing style likely feels unnatural at first – this is deep conscious breathing, not the short shallow breaths and keep us enslaved ;-).
Still, the breathing style is understandably foreign at first, so let’s consider a balloon on a faucet:
When you turn on the water the balloon starts to fill at the bottom first (belly) then the middle (chest) and finally the top (head). The balloon is constantly filling in all parts at all times. Even as the water starts to expand the mid and top parts of the balloon, the bottom is also continually expanding.
Analogously, when we inhale in the Pushup Pranayama, fluid (air or even prana) is filling up the belly first, then your awareness moves to the chest, as the breath fills the chest your awareness moves to the head as you mentally draw the breath up. However, even as your awareness moves from belly to chest to head feel that the belly is continually expanding as you inhale.
The exhale is easy – just contract the abs forcefully towards the straight and relaxed spine. Observe that the better you exhale is the better you can inhale on the next round – and vice versa.
2) Experience Yourself as Breath
What kind of hippie shit is that, amirite? Hear me out, it’s not as far out as it may initially seem.
One of our primary evolutionary advantages as a species is the ability to role play and create imagined realities. We do this all the time collectively – this is how cultures, religions, nations and states are formed.
Individually we do this too. When we go to a dinner party and sit at a table, we play the role of a bi-pedal mammal sitting in a chair. We eat in a certain way and only say certain things appropriate to that social setting. The version of ourselves at a dinner party is simply a role we play – one of many ways we can experience our sense of self.
Similarly, in a MMA cage fight, the two fighters are playing a role. Their bodily form changes into a defensive position protecting their chin and vital spots. Their breathing changes as well. Certainly, it is not sustainable to maintain this tense combative stance all the time, but for the purpose of the cage fight it is the optimal mind-body state. Again, just another experience of self.
Finally in sex, we experience ourselves blissfully conjoined with our partner, often in the horizontal position. Again, our breathing changes. We can not walk through life all the time in the horizontal position or delightfully physically fused to another person. Therefore sex is also clearly yet another role we play – one of many possible experiences of the self.
You could argue that in fact all of existence is simply a collection of layered experiences of self (but that is another story).
That feeling when you realise self does not objectively exist
The point is, we humans are excellent actors. The role I want you to play when breathing in Pushup Pranayama is that you are not a physical body anymore – you are only awareness of breath. You are not past memories or future expectations. You do not even have arms or legs. You are just breath and awareness. It’s actually much much simpler than a dinner party, fighting or sex. Comparatively, in each of these roles there is so much to think about – so many moving parts to manage. For example, should I make that joke right now? Should I throw an uppercut or a low kick? Is she enjoying this?
In contrast, to become breath there is only awareness of the flow of breath – and only this – perhaps that is what makes it challenging.
To achieve oneness with breath simply practice sitting still and breathing. As you inhale into the belly, chest and head allow your consciousness to become absorbed in the flow of breath. As you exhale, your awareness shifts to the rapid exit of breathe from your body as you contract the abs. Become absorbed in this rhythm and after some time the awareness of physical body falls away
3) Your Spine is a Highway, Breath is the Cars – No Traffic Jams!
Final breathing tip. I like to think of my spine as a super highway and my breath as cars travelling along this highway. I want this to be the most boring, peaceful highway ever. I want no traffic jams, no acceleration and no deceleration. I just want cars moving at a constant speed along the entire length of the highway.
Inhale imagining a car cruising up your spine with no stops, acceleration or deceleration. Just cruisin
Analogously, I want my breath to travel up my spine without tension or deliberation. If I find an area of tension that makes breathing difficult, I ask myself “what do I need to release physically or psychologically that will remove this breath traffic jam?”. If I notice my ego trying to fight and gasp for more breath I ask myself “instead of accelerating my breath to get in more air – what do I need to relax in my body or mind so the breath can flow at a constant speed without me forcing it?”.
As best as possible watch your breath and become sensitive to any aberrations in flow. The process of releasing tension, whether physical or energetic, enabling constant, smooth flow of breath will develop a deeper relationship with yourself and heal traumas.
1. Sit on your heels in vajrasana and close the eyes. Take a few moments to settle the body and mind in this position.
2. Take 10 deep breaths. Inhale deeply and watch the breath fill the belly, flow and fill the chest and all the way up to the head. Exhale by strongly contracting the abs inwards and upwards
3. After the 10th exhalation, fully empty the lungs and retain the breath out.
4. Lean forward and get into the pushup position with the air held out. Pause in high plank and bring attention to your alignment.
5. Without inhaling, do 10 pushups – again focussing on maintaining proper alignment.
6. After the 10th pushup, inhale deeply into balasana (child’s pose) and hold the breath in for 10-15 seconds.
7. Exhale as you return to vajrasana
8. This is one round. Do as many as you like
Eat Mango (Optional)
Optional, but highly recommended. It is important to reward the monkey mind after such an intense exercise. I enjoy eating the mango with my bare hands on a beach, getting the mango juices and pulp all over my skin and beard, then cleansing post-feast in the ocean.
If you are doing this exercises at home, office, or generally western civilisation, you can replace the ocean with a shower or simply eat the mango like a “normal” person.
Important! Do not do it if you:
- Have high blood pressure
- Have heart disease
- Have acute peptic or duodenal ulcers
- Are pregnant
- Had abdominal surgery in the last 6-9 months
Here are some tips to help you go deeper in this powerful practice:
- Do Pushup Pranayama on an empty stomach
- The hardest part of Pushup Pranayama is not the pushups, but the concentration on alignment. This can be overwhelming at first. Therefore, each time you practice, fully place attention on a single aspect of perfect alignment (as described in the How to Do a Pushup section). For example, you can first focus on straightening the spine from base to crown. After several sessions with this singular alignment focus, muscle memory will take over and it will become easier. When this happens, shift focus to the next alignment point and repeat the process. Eventually you will be able to put it all together and do a perfect pushup without much thinking.
- When your form is good and you have been practising for some time, advanced practitioners can start engaging the bandhas. Actually, if you are following the alignment instructions, you already have uddiyana bandha engaged by pulling your abs upwards and inwards. You can also carefully add moolhabandha when you are ready to go deeper in this pranayama. Do this with care and without strain.
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