4 Better Breathing Techniques for Yoga

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You probably charge your smart phone every night, but how often do you recharge your mind? The secret to doing so is through proper control of the breath.

The branch of yoga that is dedicated to breathing techniques is known as Pranayama – meaning breath control. Prana means “life force” and Ayama means “to extend.”  Breathing exercises are a vital part of effective yoga practices. These breathing techniques also can be useful for us to destress in our daily lives. Practiced properly, pranayama will bring harmony to your mind, body and spirit. These breathing exercises will help to make you mentally, spiritually and physically strong.

There are many yoga breathing techniques that can be effective to enhance your practice. Below are four for you to try.

Note: Before you begin, it is advised to take several relaxed breaths before and after the exercises. Begin with 30 seconds for each exercise, and build to longer durations as you feel your body is ready. If you experience dizziness, stop and rest, while you even out your breaths. If you are pregnant, do not practice these exercises. It is important that you refrain from breathing exercises that require you to hold your breath.

#1 Agni Sara

This is a very warming practice, as Agni means “fire” and Sara means “essence.” It’s effective for warming and toning the abdominal muscles. It also is known for igniting Tapas (heat) in the organs. The Agni Sara practice is an excellent choice for detoxifying the body.

You can practice Agni Sara by standing with your feet hips distance apart, parallel and your knees bent. Rest your hands just above your knees. Inhale fully through the nose. Then vigorously pump the exhale through the nose. At the bottom of your exhale, pull your navel in and up very strongly holding the breath out for several seconds. After you’ve held the breath out for 5 to 10 seconds, let your belly release and inhale again repeating the process. Start with 3 to 5 rounds and take several natural breaths in between rounds. As you continue practicing, try to increase holding the breath out for 15-20 seconds.

Here is a video of my teacher Diana explaining

 

#2 Lion’s Breath

Lion’s Breath encourages sudden release. It also invites some playfulness into your practice. It is one of the most fun breathing techniques to try, especially with little ones. It’s also, of course, great for adults. It’s a wonderful way to unwind from the day and to embrace some rest.

Lion’s Breath involves deeply inhaling through the nose. Then, lean the head back, open the mouth wide to exhale loudly – while sticking out your tongue. Try this breathing technique while you raise your arms on an inhale. Then, form cactus arms with the exhale and accentuate the feeling of relief as the breath exits the body.

My friend Adrienne has a wonderful video

 

#3 Skull Shining/Kapalabhati Breathing

Skull Shining also is known as Kapalabhati Breathing. This is another cleansing breath practice technique that enhances the energy level. It is similar to Agni Sara in that it creates heat, but the stress is even more on the exhale. There is a passive inhale and a forced exhale...imagine you’re trying to blow a candle out through your nose. To practice, take a long inhale through the nose and exhale out of your nose in short, strong bursts. Traditionally this practice is counted in rounds that add up to 108 (a very auspicious number). If you’re newer to pranayama practice, I recommend starting with 4 rounds of 27 pumps each. Next move to 2 rounds of 54 pumps. I like to add a retention of the breath in between rounds.

You may also try to hold your hands in your favorite hand Mudra or gesture. For instance, you can try Apana Mudra for digestion and detoxification by placing your second and third fingers against your thumb. Your hands will kind of resemble a cat’s head with your middle and ring fingers resting on the thumb so that a triangle is formed. Stick your pinkie and pointer finger in a straight up fashion, like ears.

I take you through this breath technique at the 8:36 min point of this video

 

#4 Alternate Nostril Breathing/Nadi Shodhana

This is a breathing exercise that requires focus and clarity. Alternate Nostril Breathing often is a great practice right before an exam. It also is generally good for bringing a sense of focus and discipline. Focusing in this fashion can bring a sense of calm. It clears the mind. That is why many use it before they rest for the night; it is especially well suited for those who tend to think about the day’s problems while trying to fall asleep.

Use this breathing technique by putting the right middle and pointer finger in the palm of the hand. Leave the pinkie and ring fingers and the thumb completely free. Put the right thumb over the right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril. Next, take the ring and pinkie fingers and put them over the left nostril to exhale via the right nostril.  Now, leave your hand where it is and inhale via the left nostril. Now switch and put the thumb over the right nostril and exhale via the left nostril. Repeat until you have completed your breathing exercise.

It’s easy to get your left and right turned around during this exercise (as I sometimes do while teaching it!). But you should not give up. It’s common to struggle with this breathing exercise at first. It is important to remember when you inhale, you want to seal that breath inside, and that is when you want to switch sides. As this practice gets easier for you, you can add your bhandas or “energitic locks” at the top of your inhales (holding the breath in) and at the bottom of your exhale (as you hold the breath out). To engage your bhandas, draw your lower belly in and up, lift all of the muscles in your pelvic floor and lower your chin toward your chest.

I take you through this breath practice at the 11 minute mark of this video

 

References

Pranayama. The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga Breathing Exercises. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/breathing-techniques/yoga-and-pranayama