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