Breathing is the very essence of life. The first thing we do when we enter this world and the last thing when we depart. The mind, body and breath are intimately connected and they deeply influence each other. Deep breathing practices are encouraged in advanced yoga training which have a positive impact on our physiology, both body and mind. 9 Yoga breathing practices below will help you to balance mind and body. Let’s find out and learn with Olaben!
The benefits of a regulated practice of simple, deep yogic breathing include:
- Muscle Relaxation
- Increase in energy levels
- Reduced anxiety, depression and stress
- Lower/stabilized blood pressure
Table of contents [hide]
- 1 Regulating your Breath - The Yoga Way
- 2 Pranayama Techniques
- 2.1 Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
- 2.2 Ujjayi or Ocean’s Breath Ujjayi
- 2.3 Shiitali Kumbhaka or the cooling breath
- 2.4 Siitkari Kumbhaka or the hissing breath
- 2.5 Brahmari or the humming breath
- 2.6 Bhastrika or the bellows breath
- 2.7 Surya Bhedana or the solar breath
- 2.8 Chandra Bhedana or the lunar breath
- 2.9 Active Yoga Breathing
Regulating your Breath - The Yoga Way
The most simple breathing practice for calming both the nervous system and the overworked mind is a timed way of breathing where exhalation is longer than the inhalation. This reduces the tone of your sympathetic nervous system while activating your parasympathetic nervous system ( the rest, relax, and digest response). Breathing in this way for at least five minutes will bring about a difference in your overall mood. Anyone can do this practice without having to consult a teacher.
In addition to the practice of simple deep breathing, ancient yogis have detailed different types of rhythmic deep breathing techniques that can have differing effects on the mind and body. Each of these breathing techniques has specific effects on the mind-body continuum.
Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
A yoga breathing practice that immediately helps you to feel calmer whenever you are feeling anxious or agitated. Inhale deeply through your left nostril while holding your right nostril closed with your right thumb. At its culmination, switch nostrils by closing off your left nostril. After exhaling fully, proceed to inhale through the right nostril, again closing it off at the peak of your inhalation. Lift your finger off the left nostril and exhale fully. Continuing alternating your breathing is effortless, and your mind gently focusing on the inflow and outflow of breath. The above description is a beginner’s version of alternate nostril breathing. More advanced versions include regulated breathing on a certain count for inhalation and exhalation as well as breath retention. The Rajadhiraja system of pranayama is a highly advanced practice, which combines alternate nostril breathing with focus on a certain chakra while repeating a mantra.
Ujjayi or Ocean’s Breath Ujjayi
A yoga breathing practice that can help soothe and settle your mind when you feel irritated, frustrated or angry. Inhale slightly deeper than normal. Exhale through your nose with your mouth closed and constricting your throat muscles. If done correctly, this should sound like waves on the ocean. You can also try this practice by exhaling with your mouth open and making the sound “haaaaah”. Try to make a similar sound with your mouth closed, with the outflow of air through your nasal passages. With some practice, you should use the same method while inhaling, gently constricting your throat as you inhale. Even though Ujjayi can be practiced once in a while as described above,and is given when the Sushumna nadi is sufficiently cleared, hence the need to practice under the guidance of a teacher. It is calming, but has a heating effect, stimulating the process of oxidation. It is contraindicated for low blood pressure.
Shiitali Kumbhaka or the cooling breath
Fold your tongue lengthwise and inhale deeply through the fold. Close your mouth, hold the breath on a count of eight and then exhale through the nose. Continue for eight breaths, sustain for a maximum of eight minutes. Thereafter you massage the diseased area of the body. Benefits of this method include reduced pitta (heat) in the regions of head, neck, and upper digestive tract. This yoga breathing practice is contraindicated in case of asthma, bronchitis and chronic constipation.
Siitkari Kumbhaka or the hissing breath
This breathing practice has the same basic effects as the shiitali method. Inhale through the nose, hold your breath for eight seconds and exhale through the mouth, while resting your teeth on your tongue and producing the sound s-s-s with your tongue. In addition to reduced pitta, benefits include purification of the senses. The contraindications are the same as for shiitali.
Brahmari or the humming breath
The inhalation is similar to the ujjayi (detail above) and during exhalation one has to hum like a bee. The humming results in a resonating vibration in the head and heart. Proceed to take ten deep breaths in this manner and then another ten deep Brahmari breaths while closing both ears during the exhale process. This breathing practice helps to notably enhance the resonance effect and resultant benefits. This method helps in balancing vata ( circulation or flow) in addition to subtly enhancing awareness, both mental and emotional. Additionally, it may be practiced together with yoni mudra (as taught by a teacher). Never practice this practice while lying on your back. It has to be practiced while sitting in an upright position.
Bhastrika or the bellows breath
A word of caution: This yoga breathing practice must only be performed under supervision. Close the right nostril and inhale twenty rapid bellows -like breaths through the left nostril. Repeat with twenty more breaths through the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed. Proceed to take twenty belows breaths through both nostrils. This practice helps draw prana (the life force) into the body and mind, thus clearing out mental, emotional and physical blocks.
Surya Bhedana or the solar breath
Similar to the Nadi Shodhana, inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Repeat this for a minimum of six breaths and a maximum of ten minutes. Benefits include heating and warming breaths that help balance vata in the body. This breathing practice is contraindicated in case of heart disease, hypertension, epilepsy, hyperthyroidism, peptic ulcer and acidity.
Chandra Bhedana or the lunar breath
Inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right for a minimum of six breaths and sustain for a maximum of ten minutes. This cooling breath process helps reduce pitta. It should not be practiced by people who suffer from depression, who have mental disturbances, excess mucus and sluggish digestion.
Active Yoga Breathing
Practice long, slow and deep breaths in and out through the nose as you walk at a moderate pace. Try to extend your inhalations and exhalations as you walk. Keep the count of steps during each full inhale and exhale. Aim to take ten steps or more for each inhale and exhale. This practice works to combine the calming effect of breathing with an active lifestyle.
The process of thinking and emotions have an effect on your breath. The yoga breathing practices combine with advanced yoga poses bring benefits to the various systems of the body, improving circulation and thus enhancing the performance of the various organs. Overall, keep adjusting your breath to control the energy inside you.