Yoga and Ayurveda have developed breathing techniques known as Pranayama for thousands of years, to maintain the harmony of one's physical, mental, and spiritual health. Pranayama has been derived from two Sanskrit words: Prana (life energy) and Yama (control). Simply put, Pranayam means "controlling the life energy within us."
According to Himalayan Yoga Institute, deep yogic breathing has numerous advantages, such as:
- Muscle Relaxation
- Improved focus
- Increased energy levels
- Reduced anxiety, depression
- Fired-up digestion
- Lower/stabilised blood pressure
Ancient yogis explored various rhythmic deep breathing techniques with multiple effects on the body and mind. Integrating different forms of yoga breathing techniques into daily practice helps to have more harmony and peace in our lives as well as better focus and mental clarity.
Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing - It is a yogic practise that enhances relaxation. It slows the heartbeat and relaxes the nervous system.
How to do it: One needs to inhale deeply through the left nostril while holding the right nostril closed with the right thumb. Then switch nostrils by closing off the left nostril and continuing to exhale through the right nostril. After exhaling, inhale through the right nostril, again closing it off at the peak of the inhalation. Lift the finger off the left nostril and exhale fully. One should continue this for 3-5 minutes, focusing on the inflow and outflow of breath.
Ujjayi or Ocean’s Breath - It is among the most widely used breathing techniques, and helps soothe the mind.
How to do it: Inhale slightly deeper than normal, and exhale through the nose with the mouth closed. One can also try this by exhaling with the mouth open and making the sound “haaaaah”. Or can try to make a similar sound with the mouth closed, with the outflow of air through the nasal passages. Here are some other names Ocean’s Breath may go by: Victorious breathing, Snake breathing, Whispering breath, Snoring breath.
Shiitali Kumbhaka or the cooling breath - This method works best during the summer months and helps in cooling. This breathing technique, when properly done, directs heat away from the head, neck, and digestive system.
How to do it: Fold the tongue lengthwise and inhale deeply through the fold. Close the mouth, hold the breath on a count of eight and then exhale through the nose. Continue for eight breaths, and sustain for a maximum of eight minutes.
Siitkari Kumbhaka or the hissing breath - This is a variation of the cooling breath technique, done with the teeth clenched.
How to do it: This practice has the same effects as the shiitali method. Inhale through the nose, hold your breath for eight seconds and exhale through the mouth, while resting your teeth on your tongue and producing the sound s-s-s with your tongue.
Brahmari or the humming breath - This method helps in balancing the circulation or flow, enhancing both mental and emotional awareness. It has to be practised while sitting in an upright position.
How to do it: The inhalation is similar to the ujjayi, and during exhalation, one has to hum like a bee. The humming results in a resonating vibration in the head and heart. Then take ten deep breaths in this manner and then another ten deep Brahmari breaths while closing both ears during the exhale process.
Bhastrika or the bellows breath - Bellows breath is used to energize the body. And also help boost digestion and increase metabolism. This technique is also said to help with weight loss.
How to do it: Close the right nostril and inhale twenty rapid bellows-like breaths through the left nostril. Repeat with twenty more bellows breaths through the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed. Then take twenty bellows breaths through both nostrils.
Surya Bhedana or the solar breath - The main purpose of the solar breath is to bring vital energy to the body. This type of yogic breathing gives the sympathetic nervous system a boost. It should not be done right after eating.
How to do it: Similar to the Nadi Shodhana, inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Repeat this for a minimum of six breaths and a maximum of ten minutes.
Chandra Bhedana or the lunar breath - This breath practice is the opposite of how you perform the solar breath practice. The idea is to bring coolness to the body.
How to do it: Same as solar breath, inhale through the left nostril and exhale through the right for a minimum of six breaths and sustain for a maximum of ten minutes. It should not be practised by people who suffer from depression, who have mental disturbances, etc.
Active Yogic Breathing - This technique helps to combine the calming effect of breathing with an active lifestyle.
How to do it: Practice long, slow and deep breaths in and out through the nose as you walk at a moderate pace. Try to extend your inhalations and exhalations as you walk. Keep the count of steps during each full inhale and exhale. Aim to take ten steps or more for each inhale and exhale.
Breathwork is an excellent tool to charge the yoga practice. Breathing during yoga helps us access the deeper spiritual levels of connection. The best way to learn how breathwork can help is to experience it for yourself.