Breathing is a very natural process that people don’t usually put a lot of mind into. In yoga, however, being mindful of your breathing is a crucial part of the practice. It comprises one of the major aspects of yoga and is considered to be the most effective way of getting the optimum benefits. Breathing in yoga is not taken as just a mere body mechanism, but as a tool to train one’s mind and body. Compared to involuntary breathing where you inhale and exhale at an average of 14 to 20 cycles in a minute, mindful breathing is only limited to five to six cycles per minute.
According to a Harvard study on yoga and meditation, following proper breathing techniques help in maintaining positive mood and can improve the state of the nervous system when used correctly. Breathing changes based on the person’s emotions or on the situation that he or she is in. When a person is in a stressful moment, breathing rate becomes faster and the brain is triggered to release appropriate chemicals in response. Similarly, when in a relaxed state of breathing, the brain releases feel good and calming hormones. Harnessing the release of these hormones is one of the main uses of proper breathing techniques.
Pranayama, the term used in Yoga practice for breathing, comes in many types similar to Asana, the term used for the poses in yoga. But before one can start practicing the various types Pranayama, must start from the basics which is awareness. Understanding the basics of your breathing is the first step in practicing Pranayama Yoga.
Begin by observing your breathing as you inhale and exhale through your nose, do not try to manipulate it in any way and just observe it as is. By observing your breath, you will be able to start gathering information about your own breathing pattern and rhythm. From there, you will be able to start practicing the various forms of breathing techniques.
One breathing technique is known as Ujjayi Pranayama. This is a classic breathing practice in yoga known for its soothing sound akin to waves breaking in an ocean. While doing your yoga poses, focus on your breaths. Inhale slowly through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth while saying “ha”. Do not force the air out quickly, instead calmly exhale while pronouncing the word.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is believed to be the proper method of cleansing and unclogging the passageways used by cosmic energy and life force to travel around the body. This technique known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama is normally practiced not during the yoga poses and stretches, but right after.
After successfully completing a sequence, relax your mind as if in meditation and take a comfortable seating posture. With your right hand in a loose fist, bring your right hand with the thumb and ring finger slightly extended forward. With the use of your thumb, block you right nostril then take a deep and slow breath through your left nostril. After breathing in, take you ring finger and block your left nostril while unblocking your right nostril. Then slowly exhale through your right nostril and then breathe in once more. Now block your right nostril once again and unblock your left nostril and exhale from it. This completes one cycle which can be repeated around three to five times.
Breath Retention, also known as Kumbhaka Pranayama, deals with the idea that holding one’s breath can help the lungs expand further, thus creating the ability to take even more air. It is also believed to increase the oxygen being spread to all parts of the body. Similar to alternate nostril breathing, take a comfortable seating posture then slowly take a deep breath. Hold that breath for around ten seconds before trying to breathe in more air, afterwards hold the air in your fully inflated lungs for as long as you can before calmly releasing it. For those who find it a challenge to hold their breath for ten seconds, start from three seconds and gradually increase the length to ten seconds to make it more viable.
Unlike the previous techniques, the Breath of Fire or the Kapalabhati Pranayama entails the use of rapid breaths to invigorate and energize the body. This is used as a way to kick off a yoga routine. Begin with a slow and deep inhalation followed by a slow exhalation. Followed by a deep inhalation once more but now use a quick exhalation in spurts. Keep doing this for 25 to 30 cycles, always taking deep slow breaths then releasing the air in quick spurts.
After learning about the different techniques of breathing or pranayama, the next step is to integrate it with your yoga routine. Here are a few quick and standard breathing rules when executing yoga practice. Exhale every time you bend forward. By emptying the lungs during exhalation, the torso changes and turns more compressed which means that there is less physical obstruction between your body’s upper and lower half, increasing the depth of the position. The act of exhaling also slows down the heart rate which benefits postures and actions that require you to bend forward.
Inhale every time you lift or open up the chest. This action increases the space within your chest cavity and creates an opportunity for your lungs to expand even more. Thus, taking a deep breath when doing actions related to opening your chest is the best. Also, actions such as these usually make the body spend more energy, by taking a deep breath during this action, more oxygen is made available to the body right after.
Exhale when twisting your body. Similar to the first rule, twisting the body compresses the chest so it is best to exhale. But before the actual move, there is usually a preparation stage where in inhaling is the proper thing to do. In short, inhale when preparing then exhale when executing.
By combining the benefits of proper breathing techniques, a practitioner of yoga will truly be able to maximize the benefits of their routine.