Yoga Breathing

BREATHE! Inspire yourself to fully inhabit your Self!

The word spirit means breath. (Respiration.) Spirit and breath are LIFE! One cannot underestimate the value and power of proper breathing. It is fundamental to yoga practice. Yogis have recognized and named dozens of different types of breath and breathing techniques.

Breathe! Breath is life! Breath is O2. Exchange of electrons. Flow of energy. Air is the primary nutrient. Survival without it is measured in minutes.

It is so important that you do it without thinking. Your breathing is the voice of your spirit. It’s depth, smoothness, sound, and rate reflect your mood. If you become aware of your breath and breathe the way you do when you are calm you will become calm.

Breathing is the gateway to your unconscious autonomic mechanisms (spirit). When you take notice, your breathing changes. Your conscious mind is talking in spirit to your body. You are brought into the here and now. And healing begins…

When you slow your breathing, you calm down. When you speed up your breathing, you become energized! CO2 levels in your blood drop. Your system becomes less acidic.

The most famous are: long deep (slow) breathing, or “complete breath,” rapid abdominal breath, or “pranayama” (Breath of Fire), and “alternate nostril breathing.”

breathing yoga

Breathing Exercise:

Long, Deep, “Complete” Breathing

Sit with your spine erect and heart space open (chest expanded). Hands on your thighs, palms up! Elbows in, close to your sides, but relaxed. Remember to breathe through your nose, long, deep, and slow.

First, fill your tummy, like a balloon, as you inhale. Stretch it! Continue inhaling until you have expanded your chest completely, as well. Press the backs of your hands into your thighs for leverage! Now, “sip” in even more air a couple times! STRETCH those lungs! Hold it without “bearing down” or “locking up.” As if you are still on the inhale cycle. (Not as if you are “blocking” the exhale cycle.) Gradually increase the time you hold it from a few seconds… up to several minutes(!) as you progress in your practice.

Then exhale completely. Contracting first your anus, then your “sexual muscles,” and finally your diaphragm (“bearing down” intensely). Squeeze it all out!

Do this from three to eleven times. Repeat this technique two or three times each hour while at your computer!

Abdominal Breathing

Breathing exercises such as this one should be done twice a day or whenever you find your mind dwelling on upsetting thoughts or when you are experiencing pain. I recommend for the beginners to start while you are laying on the mat – it makes it easier to control your chest and abdomen area with your hands.

  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. When you take a deep breath in, the hand on the abdomen should rise higher than the one on the chest. This insures that the diaphragm is pulling air into the bases of the lungs.
  • After exhaling through the mouth, take a slow deep breath in through your nose imagining that you are sucking in all the air in the room and hold it for a count of 7 (or as long as you are able, not exceeding 7)
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. As all the air is released with relaxation, gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely evacuate the remaining air from the lungs. It is important to remember that we deepen respirations not by inhaling more air but through completely exhaling it.
  • Repeat the cycle four more times for a total of 5 deep breaths and try to breathe at a rate of one breath every 10 seconds (or 6 breaths per minute). At this rate our heart rate variability increases which has a positive effect on cardiac health.

Rapid Abdominal Breathing – breathing exercise to increase energy

If practiced over time, the abdominal breathing exercise can result in improved energy throughout the day, but sometimes we are in need of a quick “pick-up.” The Bellows breathing exercise (also called, the stimulating breath) can be used during times of fatigue that may result from driving over distances or when you need to be revitalized at work. It should not be used in place of abdominal breathing but in addition as a tool to increase energy when needed. This breathing exercise is opposite that of abdominal breathing. Short, fast rhythmic breaths are used to increase energy, which are similar to the “chest” breathing we do when under stress. The bellows breath recreates the adrenal stimulation that occurs with stress and results in the release of energizing chemicals such as epinephrine. Like most bodily functions this serves an active purpose, but overuse results in adverse effects as discussed above.

The Bellows Breathing Technique (The Stimulating Breath)

This yogic technique can be used to help stimulate energy when needed. It is a good thing to use before reaching for a cup of coffee.

  • Sit in a comfortable up-right position with your spine straight.
  • With your mouth gently closed, breath in and out of your nose as fast as possible. To give an idea of how this is done, think of someone using a bicycle pump (a bellows) to quickly pump up a tire. The upstroke is inspiration and the downstroke is exhalation and both are equal in length.
  • The rate of breathing is rapid with as many as 2-3 cycles of inspiration/expiration per second.
  • While doing the exercise, you should feel effort at the base of the neck, chest and abdomen. The muscles in these areas will increase in strength the more this technique is practiced. This is truly an exercise.
  • Do this for no longer than 15 seconds when first starting. With practice, slowly increase the length of the exercise by 5 seconds each time. Do it as long as you are comfortably able, not exceeding one full minute.
  • There is a risk for hyperventilation that can result in loss of consciousness if this exercise is done too much in the beginning. For this reason, it should be practiced in a safe place such as a bed or chair.

This exercise can be used each morning upon awakening or when needed for an energy boost.

What is Alternate Nostril Breath?

Alternate nostril breath is a breathing technique where you alternate inhales and exhales from one nostril to the next. The nose is the only organ in the body other than sexual organs that contain erectile tissue which is tissue that controls the size and shape of the nasal passages. This tissue is responsible for controlling the flow of air through the nasal passages.

Breathing naturally alternates from one nostril to the next almost every 2 hours. Usually people are not aware of this occuring as the change happens on its own. Generally when we suffer from congestion in one nostril, it stops the natural alternating air flow from left to right nostril. And can lead to great problems.

Alternate Nostril breathing helps to direct the flow of prana and purify the nostrils.

How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breath

1. Sit in a comfortable seated position, and begin your breathing

2. Hold your right hand up and turn your pointer and middle finger down, curling them into your palm. This leaves the thumb and ring and pinky fingers available.

3. Use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers to close your left nostrils.

4. Begin by covering your left nostril first and inhaling (slowly- 2 counts) through the right nostril.

5. Close the right nostril and with thumb and hold the breath (for 4- 8 counts, depending on experience level).

6. Then release the ring and pinky fingers from the left nostril and slowly exhale (4 counts.)

7. Inhale in the left nostril, close the left nostril and hold for 4-8 counts before releasing the thumb and exhaling out the right nostril.

8. Inhale in the right nostril, hold and repeat exhale and inhale on the left side.

  • Note that in a more advanced practice, inhales should be for 2 counts, exhales should be for 4 counts and holds in between inhales and exhales should be for 8 counts. (If may be hard to hold 8 counts at first, it will get easier with more practice.)
  • when first starting, practice inhaling to 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, and exhaling to 4 counts.
  • The breath should be practiced for 5 minutes at a time and then increased to up to 10 minutes.
  • It is important to stay relaxed and calm through this; at first it will seem unnatural but eventually it will become more relaxing and soothing.

Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breath

Like all forms of pranayama, alternate nostril breath helps to direct the flow of prana, or the body’s life force, throughout the body. Some of the benefits of this type of breath are:

* This form of deep, methodical breathing can trigger deep relaxation by clearing the mind and calming the body.
* Alternate nostril breath is great preparation for meditation.
* An increase in the intake of oxygen helps to nourish the body and brain with the vital life force of breath.
* The holding of the breath between inhales and exhales helps to regulate and direct the flow of breath in the body- helping to maximize benefits and the flow of prana.
* This breath helps to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain (linear thinking with creative thinking).
* Alleviates headaches and calms anxiety and tense mental states.
* Alternate Nostril Breath helps to regulate the heating and cooling cycles of the body.