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Pranayama, or Breathing Exercises

What is Pranayama

Pranayama, or The control of the Breath, is a common yogic exercise designed to help the practitioner focus on the present, clear the mind, and demonstrate control over the most critical of biological functions: breathing. In literal terms, Pranayama translates to the suspension or control (ayama) of our life force (prana). 

Most Pranayama techniques are easy to perform and can be practiced either as a part of a wider yogic routine or in isolation. In yoga, mastery of Pranayama is considered to be a gateway to higher consciousness along with mastery of Asanas, or physical postures and stretches demonstrating control over the body. 

Pranayama is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to help ease and focus the mind. There are various research that also demonstrates breathing exercises can be beneficial when performed frequently and correctly. 

Below, we outline the commonly used techniques for practicing Pranayama

8 Types of Pranayama

Natural Breathing

Natural breathing is just as it sounds–it’s natural. This is the starting point for anyone looking for mental focus and is easy to perform. Natural breathing encourages the practitioner to focus on the breath and become aware of the temperature and speed of your breath and also focus on the path of your breath (through nose, throat, lungs, chest, diaphragm and back out).

Abdominal Breathing

This is one of the most important techniques in successful Pranayama. Place one hand on your belly and focus on drawing your breath in through your nose and all the way down to the point you feel your belly gently expand on inhalation and contract on exhalation. Focus on the path of your breath on each pulse.

Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Yogic Breath)

This is the perfect exercise for those beginning meditation and seeking relaxation and stress relief. Dirga Pranayama, or three part breathing, teaches you how to focus on the present moment and be in control of your body and mind. Three part breathing is easy to follow and can effectively calm the mind, and let you experience and appreciate the moment of being present.

This technique separates the breath into three stages and stimulates greater oxygen flow. Find a comfortable space and try to clear your mind and focus on the moment. 

 

Instructions:

Part 1

  1. Begin to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through your nose only
  2. Now on each inhale, fill your belly up with air. Feel the breath travel down your body as your belly expands. 
  3. On each exhale, feel the air travel up your body as you dispel it from your nose. Feel your stomach empty and draw your navel back towards your spine (like a vacuum) to make sure the breath has left your body
  4. Repeat five to seven times then move on to Part 2

 

Part 2

  1. As with Part 1, begin by drawing in air to your belly. Now just as your belly becomes full with air, try and draw in a little more air but this time in your rib cage. Feel your rib cage expand slightly with this breath
  2. On the exhale, let the air from your rib cage leave first. Feel your rib cage gently collapse as this air leaves your body first, followed by the air from your belly. As in Part 1, on exhalation from the belly draw your navel in towards your spine to ensure a complete exhalation of the breath
  3. Repeat five to seven times then move on to Part 3

 

Part 3

  1. In this final stage, begin your inhalation as in Part 1 and 2. But instead of stopping at your rib cage, take in a little more air and this time fill your upper chest, almost up to your collarbone. Let your chest swell around your heart and lungs.
  2. On exhalation, start by dispelling the air from your upper chest first, then your rib cage, and finally your belly
  3. Continue for about ten to twelve breaths

Anulom Vilom (Nostril Breath)

Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic exercise used to purify the energy channels and flows in and out of the body. This is particularly useful exercise if you are suffering from an ailment like a cold or are lacking focus and mental clarity. This breathing technique that can also relieve stress and anxiety and is one of the easiest to follow. This breathing pattern could also be applied for types of pranayama listed.

 

Instructions:

  1. Create the Pranava Mudra with your hands by bending your index and middle finger and making contact with your thumb; your ring and little fingers will be outstretched. 
  2. Place your outstretched fingers near the side of your right nostril and close of one nostril
  3. Take a deep breath through your open nostril and hold the breath for four counts
  4. Exhale through the opposite nostril for four counts and repeat this process initiating the breath from the opposite nostril in an alternating manner

 

Note, when you are comfortable with this technique, play around with the counts of the breath by either lengthening your inhale or exhale.

 

Ujjayi Pranayama (Ocean Breath)

The Ujjayi Pranayama, or Ocean Breath, is perfect for the anxious and restless mind as it focuses on lengthening the breath in a controlled manner and slowing the airflow in and around you. This is a powerful yet easy to follow practice that allows you to lengthen your breath and focus exclusive on the present moment. In effect, your breathing simulates the rhythmic and gentle waves of a calm ocean.

Simhasana Pranayama (Lion’s Breath)

The Lion’s breath is an advanced breath technique that is perfect for positively energizing the body and mind and relieving stress, depression, and negativity. This breathing technique is most effective when paired with the simultaneous stretching and tensioning of your muscles–literally picture a lion roaring and showing of his claws. Note, this particular technique may be a little awkward to practise in public but it is sure to make you feel energized!

Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Yogic Breath)

This is the perfect exercise for those beginning meditation and seeking relaxation and stress relief. Dirga Pranayama, or three part breathing, teaches you how to focus on the present moment and be in control of your body and mind. Three part breathing is easy to follow and can effectively calm the mind, and let you experience and appreciate the moment of being present.

 

Brahmari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breath)

This is another great technique to reduce stress and anxiety that is also easy to follow. Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, and on exhalation make the sound of ‘m’, as in the third letter of ‘aum’, like the humming sound of a bee. You can also block your ears with your fingers to increase the vibratory effect as you exhale.

 

Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama is one of the most advanced breathing techniques in Yoga and is difficult to execute effectively for the novice. However, once mastered this is one of the most powerful exercises that can be performed for energizing the body, dispelling negativity, and focusing the mind. The technique focuses on drawing the breath to the diaphragm and exhaling with abdominal pulses. Note, as this exercise is quite advanced we recommend learning and performing with a trained yoga professional for best results, as light-headidness and shortness of breath can be a common side-effect when performed incorrectly.