Yoga Breathing Techniques - Pranayama

Having a good yoga breathing technique is one of the most important tools for your practice. Breathing is force of life. It brings in the oxygen that the body needs to function. In physical activity, the bigger groups of muscles are the ones that require the more oxygen. With an improper or shallow breathing technique, for example, these big muscles would not get enough oxygen to really perform at their whole capacity. This is why weight lifters generally coordinate their breath with the movement. It allows them to gather more strength to push the weights.

Ujjayi Breathing

In yoga, breathing is also generally coordinated with the movement. The control of the breath is called Panayama (Prana=life force and Ayama=control). Ujjayi Breathing is the breathing technique generally used during a practice of Hatha yoga. It helps:

  • Create space in the body.
  • Deepen the stretch
  • Energize the body
  • Focus and concentrate
  • Calm the body and mind
  • Feel

Meditation

Ujjayi breaths are long, slow and deep. The abdomen and chest both uniformly expand as we inhale. This creates space in the body and brings the energy in. On the exhale, we empty the lungs completely. This brings calm to the mind and body, it relaxes the muscles and helps deepen the stretch.

How to perform Ujjayi Breathing

  • Find a comfortable sitting position with your spine straight.

  • This yoga breathing technique uses the same muscles that are used when we whisper. If you can whisper, you can practice Ujjayi. Whisper to yourself and, as you do this, try feeling the muscles in your throat.

  • Next, exhale with your mouth opened, making the sound haaaa, focusing on your throat. This uses the same muscles. Try this a few times to get a good feeling of what is going on in the throat.

  • Next, close your mouth. Ujjayi Breathing is done with the mouth shut. All inhale and exhale are done through the nose. Using the same muscles as in the exercises above, slightly constrict the passage in the throat and inhale slowly and deeply.

  • Exhale the same way: through the nose, with the same constriction in the throat, slowly and completely.

This constriction should make a hissing sound. It might take you some practice to be able to perform Ujjayi. If it does not come right away, I suggest that you keep practicing because it is well worth it.

Yoga Breath - Incorporate Ujjayi Breathing into your Yoga Practice

During your yoga practice, move from one asana to the next with an inhale or an exhale. This will create a nicely flowing sequence. Generally, you will inhale on opening postures, such as back bending, and will exhale on closing postures, such as forward bending. Listen to the sound of your breath and move with it as if the body and breath were one. But also use it to help you maintain more demanding asanas for longer period of time.

Take it to the next level

Ujjayi yoga breathing has even more to it than the physical benefits. It is meant to bring you within, to help you just be present. As you focus on your breath during your practice, leave all your thoughts and the stresses of life on the side and just be in the moment. As your experience grows, this will put you into a meditative state, which is ultimately very relaxing.

Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Shodhana

It is known that we do not breathe equally through both nostrils. With Alternate Nostril Breathing we breathe equally from one side to the other. This is said to balance each side of the brain. It brings stability to the mind and body, balances the emotional state and therefore is very calming. This technique can be practiced as yoga breathing, but it can also be practiced at any time of the day, as desired.

How to perform Alternate Nostril Breathing

  • Find a comfortable sitting position with your spine straight.

  • Make Mrigi Mudra with your right hand: curl your index and middle finger (as in a fist) and straighten your pinky, ring finger and thumb.

  • Close your left nostril with your ring finger with a gentle pressure. Inhale through your right nostril, then close the right nostril with your thumb, open the left nostril and exhale through the left nostril.

  • Next, inhale through the left nostril then close the left nostril with your ring finger, open the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.

This completes one round. Practice doing 3 rounds and increase the number of rounds as desired, as your practice progresses.

Once you get used to it, you have the option of adding a retention of the breath between the inhale and the exhale. This retention helps to calm even more.

  • To do this, inhale through one nostril on a count of 4.

  • Close both nostrils and hold your breath for a count of 16.

  • Exhale through the opposite nostril for a count of 8.

  • Repeat this cycle, inhaling through the nostril from which you just exhaled, and so on.

At first, it is possible that you focus so much on how to perform this breathing technique that you will not feel the benefits from it. If that is the case, I suggest that you keep practicing and give this technique a chance. Once you get more used to do it, try to not think about how to do it. Instead, let yourself feel.

Yoga and Alternate Nostril Breathing

I generally practice this breathing technique at the beginning of a yoga session. It brings me calm and allows me to start my asanas practice with less agitation. This is especially true if my mind is already more agitated than not. I am then more easily able to reach a meditative state.

Breath Retention

Breath Retention is another great calming breathing technique. With the stresses of life, we tends to have irregular and/or fast breathing habit. The Breath Retention helps to go back to a nice, slow breathing pace. Practice this technique at the beginning of your practice, or whenever you feel that it would benefit you.

  • Find a comfortable sitting position with your spine straight.

  • Inhale on a count of 6.

  • Hold your breath for a count of 6.

  • Exhale on a count of 6.

  • Repeat this cycle as desired.

As you get more comfortable, increase the count number to what feels comfortable for you.