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Everything You Need to Know About Breathing in Yoga


Yoga has a beautiful saying: "One Breath, One Movement". It refers to the fluidity between the body and the breath flow in our yoga practice.

Our breath is like the tide. It flows in a steady cascade from the moment we are born until we take our onward journey. It's such a constant in our lives that we often overlook it entirely.

Yoga asks us to contemplate and work with our breath, using it consciously. With practice, the breath and movement become coordinated and controlled.

What is yoga breathing called?

In yoga, we call this practice 'pranayama'. The term is derived from Sanskrit; prana means 'vital life force', and ayama represents 'expansion'. It is an essential element of yoga, often incorporated into the movement or used in meditation.

The breath is a symbol of prana, and pranayama is best understood as a way to increase our vital life force energy through careful control of respiration.

How should I breathe when I do yoga?

In the beginning, coordinating your breath with your movements can feel disjointed and awkward. If you are new to yoga, you might think, "Hold on, my instructor just said inhale, but I'm exhaling!".

Don't worry if you find it challenging to sync your breath; it will come with time.

Just try to keep your breath steady and even throughout your practice. In general, remember this rule of thumb: Inhale, as you bend forward, exhale as you open your chest and expand the front of your body.

Should I be breathing through the nose or the mouth?

When you practice yoga, it's a good idea to get into the habit of breathing through your nose. It's through this practice that we learn to discipline our breath. Harnessing the power of the breath will allow us to control our bodies and even our nervous system responses.

For example, our hearts begin to race when we feel anger, anxiety or agitation. We lose the ability to think in an entirely rational way as our nervous system goes into autopilot. We can calm ourselves down by controlling our breath in these situations.

Being able to remain in or quickly return to a state of calm is one of the benefits of a committed yoga practice.

Nasal breathing also naturally filters the air, either warming or cooling it, depending on your technique.

What are yoga breathing techniques?

There are different types of breath practices you can use during yoga. You can even find pranayama classes specifically dedicated to yoga breathing techniques.

Ujjayi (Victorious Breath)

This is breathing that, when performed correctly, sounds like the ocean. It is achieved by breathing in through the nose, slightly contracting the back of your throat and exhaling through the nose.

Considered a more advanced technique, it's primarily used in Ashtanga and flow yoga so that breath and movement mimic the tide.

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This practice cleanses the nadis, the energy pathways through the body. It has been reported to create a greater sense of calm in the practitioner. It's best performed when you are feeling healthy and not congested.

Performed in a seated position, you raise your right hand and place your index and middle fingers between your eyebrows. Use your thumb to close the right nostril and inhale through your left. Using your fourth finger, close the left nostril and exhale through the right. Take another inhale through the right nostril, then close it with your thumb, exhaling through the left. This is one cycle. Repeat for up to five minutes.

Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing)

This is a practice that encourages us to keep the inhale and exhale of equal length. You can try it for yourself at home or use it as a way into a meditative state if that is your preference. It’s perfect for beginners.

Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your heart. Start by inhaling for four counts and exhaling for four. Focus on expanding your lungs like a barrel, feeling the breath travel deep into the belly. Once you feel comfortable using a count of four, try increasing it to five, then six.

What are the benefits of yogic breath?

Learning to breathe deeply and consciously is one of the best stress relievers available. It's completely free, and once you know a few techniques, you can perform them anywhere, even while washing up!

Controlled and deep breathing helps to quiet the body's physical response to stress. The heart rate lowers, rapid breathing slows, and blood pressure drops.

Other benefits of yogic breath are:

  • Lower cortisol in the body
  • Increased calm and relaxation
  • Expulsion of carbon dioxide and increased oxygen
  • Aids with sleeplessness and insomnia
  • Stabilizes and lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers heart rate

The long-lasting effects of yogic breathing

Breathing is the first and last thing we ever do. It sustains us day in and day out throughout our lives. We can learn to control our respiration by using yoga breath practices, expanding and extending our vital life force. With regular practice, you'll reap all the benefits throughout your whole lifetime.

Just by focusing on our breath, we can achieve more significant states of calm. Couple this with yoga poses or meditation, and you've given your body and mind one of the best relaxation methods available.

You don't have to be on your yoga mat to practice conscious and controlled yogic breath. The vast benefits are available to you anytime and anywhere.

Key takeaways

Yoga breathing techniques are called 'pranayama', which means life force expansion.

You can practice yogic breath anytime, anywhere.

You don't have to be on your yoga mat to practice yoga breathing techniques.

Yogic breath is proven to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

There are different techniques to suit beginners and more advanced practitioners.

Resources:

The New York Academy of Sciences: Yoga Breathing, Meditation and Longevity

Harvard Health Publishing: Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response

National Library of Medicine: Breathing control lowers blood pressure

National Library of Medicine: How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing

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