Pranayama is an ancient discipline that translates to 'breath control'. However, this practice is often misinterpreted as breathing exercise geared towards achieving the ability to hold breath for a long period.
Pranayama involves various breathing techniques or breathing exercises. The word prana means life force, and Yama refers to physical control. So Pranayama is an extension of techniques that help us gain better health and improved quality of life by focusing on breathing.
Pranayama Breathing Techniques
Here's a look at six pranayama breathing techniques to calm your mind:
1) Three Part Breath
This technique got its name because when you practice it, you are actively breathing into three different parts of the abdomen. It’s probably one of the best pranayama techniques for beginners, as it gets you used to filling up your lungs and breathing meditatively.
Here's how you do it:
- Lie on your back, preferably on a soft surface. and breathe into the belly; watch it expand with each breath.
- When it feels full, inhale more air to fill your rib cage, and let a little more in to fill the chest.
- Exhale slowly from the upper chest, and from the rib cage and lastly from your belly. Do that for 10-20 breaths.
2) Abdominal Breathing
Yogic abdominal breathing can help you gain control of your breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase the amount of oxygen you take in with each breath. Breathing exercises can help you become more aware of your natural breathing patterns.
To do this exercise:
- Sit in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath, and slowly exhale.
- Breathe as quietly as possible.
- Feel the air reaching down to your throat and all the way to the bottom of your lungs when you breathe out.
- When you cannot take any more breath, take a little bit more till you feel an expansion in your ribs and chest area.
- Do this exercise five times or as long as you feel comfortable.
3) Nadi Sodhana 'Alternate Nostril Breathing'
If you have heard of 'the practice of breathing', or have practiced it previously, you may have heard of alternate nostril breathing. That's a type of pranayama that helps balance the three doshas of the human experience: mind, body and soul.
Here's how you do it:
- Sit cross-legged on the floor, with your left hand on your left knee.
- Exhale completely, and use your right hand to close your right nostril.
- Inhale through the left side, and close off that nostril with your other fingers.
- Open your right nostril, and exhale completely while inhaling through that side.
- Close that nostril, and open the left; exhale completely while inhaling through it.
4) Shitali Pranayama 'Cooling Breath'
This is a cooling breath that can cool the body, induce muscular relaxation, and reduce mental and emotional stress. To do the Sitali Pranayama, inhale through your rolled tongue to create a cooling sensation on the tongue and roof of your mouth.
To do this pose:
- Make yourself as comfortable as possible by lying flat on your back with a straight spine.
- Close your eyes, relax your whole body, and breathe smoothly.
- Extend your tongue as far as you can outside your mouth, and roll the edges up so that it forms a tube.
- Inhale through the rolled tongue for nine rounds of this breath, and exhale through your nose.
- Start with nine rounds of breath each time you practice it, and gradually increase to 15 rounds if you have time.
5) Sitkari Pranayama (Hissing Teeth Breath)
Sitkari and Sitali Pranayama are two versions of a cooling breathing exercise. Sitkari involves inhaling through your teeth, which may be uncomfortable if you have sensitive teeth. Sitali involves inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your slightly parted lips, so you may want to try that one instead.
To do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position, and close your eyes.
- Relax your whole body as you breathe through your teeth, partially separating your lips and exhaling through your nose.
- Do that for nine rounds, and gradually increase the number of rounds to 15 if you have time.
6) Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath)
This breathing exercise involves making a humming sound with your voice. This vibration can help to calm your mind, relieve frustration or anxiety, and prepare you for meditation.
How to do it:
- Sit comfortably, and close your eyes.
- Place your index fingers on the cartilage of your ears, just above your jawline.
- Breathe in through your nose, and exhale slowly while making a steady humming sound like a bumblebee.
- Repeat for ten breaths.
The practice of pranayama can easily be integrated into our daily lives, and there are many benefits for doing so.
By bringing our awareness to the breath and changing how we breathe, we can influence our mood, physical health and emotions. These days, with almost everything stressing us out and keeping us from focusing on the present, pranayama is a valuable tool for helping live a stress-free life.
Q. Have you tried these different breathing techniques?