Breathing is the very essence of life and, despite taking roughly a half-billion breaths over the course of your life, you may not give it much consideration since it occurs automatically.
Not only does breath sustain life, the way we breathe can influence our thoughts and physiology, and vice versa. Yoga breathwork (pranayama) can positively impact your physical body, emotional well-being, and mental health by:
- Promoting muscle relaxation
- Increasing energy levels
- Reducing anxiety and stress
- Lowering rates of depression
- Lowering blood pressure
The easiest way to tap into the power of yoga breath is simply to breathe on your own, making your exhale longer than your inhale. The longer exhalation helps you access your parasympathetic nervous system which will calm your central nervous system and promote relaxation.
In addition to this simple deep breathing exercise, yogis have numerous rhythmic and deep breathing techniques that have specific effects on both the mind and body. Let’s take a look at the eight most common types of yoga breath.
This yoga breath uses alternate nostril breathing to immediately help you feel calmer when anxiety strikes.
To start, 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 and continuing to exhale smoothly through your right 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. Continue alternating your breathing through each nostril and practice for 3 to 5 minutes.
This yoga breath is often used at the beginning of class to focus the mind and help heat up the body from the inside out. It can also help soothe and settle your mind when you feel irritated, frustrated, or angry.
To practice this popular yoga breath, inhale slightly deeper than normal. Exhale through your nose with your mouth closed while slightly constricting your throat muscles. If done correctly, this should sound like waves on the ocean. With some practice, you should then use the same method while inhaling, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
This is a cooling breath that can help reduce heat in the head, neck, and upper digestive tract. Fold your tongue lengthwise and inhale deeply through the fold. Close your mouth, hold your breath on a count of eight and then exhale through the nose. Continue for eight breaths but do not sustain for longer than eight minutes.
Also known as the “hissing breath,” this yoga breath can reduce heat and help purify the senses.
To perform Siitkari Kumbhaka, inhale through your nose, holding your breath for eight seconds at the top. Then, exhale completely through the mouth, while resting your teeth on your tongue and producing the sound s-s-s with your tongue.
Brahmari is also known as the “humming breath” and the inhalation is similar to the Ujjayi breath (detailed above). However, during the exhalation, you make a humming sound like a bee. The humming results in a vibration in the head and heart which helps balance energy and enhance awareness, both mental and emotional. Start by taking at least ten slow, deep yoga breaths in the Brahmari method and see how you feel.
This yoga breath is also called the “Stimulating Breath” or “Bellows Breathing” and is a traditional yoga breathing technique used to energize the body, increase alertness, and clarify the mind. To practice, close the right nostril and inhale twenty rapid breaths through the left nostril. Repeat with twenty more bellows breaths through the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed. Proceed to take twenty bellows breaths through both nostrils.
Surya Bheda Pranayama is a type of yoga breath that activates the body and increases digestive fire. Start by inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left, and continue for at least 6-10 breath cycles. This “solar breath” helps warm the body and balance energy in your body.
The technique of this yoga breath is similar to Surya Bhedana however you will inhale through the left nostril, not the right, and exhale through the right. This “lunar breath” is cooling and will help reduce excess heat or energy within the body.
Breathing is one of the most natural things we do as humans, and an intentional yoga breath practice, leveraging any of the above techniques, can help us create more ease and balance in our lives. Taking time to focus on the breath allows us to pause from daily stresses and emotions to gain clarity and cultivate a sense of well-being.
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Erin Entlich is a certified yoga instructor, personal trainer, holistic health coach, and writer. She believes doing good starts with feeling good, which is why she loves helping people weave movement, mindfulness, and healthy eating into their daily lives. Find out more at www.erinentlich.com.