If you bypass breathwork on your yoga mat, well, you are not alone. It is the classic Cinderella story – Pranayama seems to be always left behind: after all, asanas are the guest of honour in yoga studios.
Pranayama means control of breath. “Prana” is Breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means expansion or extension.
In traditional yoga, it is firmly believed that by controlling the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama, it is possible to achieve a healthy body and mind.
So, let’s give breathing a chance to discover its transformative power! Here are three essential techniques to try.
Nadhi Sodhana or Anuloma Viloma
Nadhi sodhana, also known as alternative nostril breathing, is a very relaxed, balancing breath that is used to help calm the nervous system and aid in a restful night’s sleep. By increasing the amount of oxygen taken into the body, it is believed that this breath can also purify the blood, calm the mind, reduce stress and promote concentration.
How to do it: Nadhi sodhana can be done seated or lying down. To start, empty all the air from your lungs. Using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only. Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest. Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only. Be sure to exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side. A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you’re just starting out, you can do a four-count inhale, holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts. Perform up to ten cycles and notice how your body responds. You may feel more relaxed and calmer in both your mind and body.
When to do it: Nadhi sodhana is a calm, soothing breath that can be done any time of day. Try practicing this technique when you may be feeling anxious, nervous, or having trouble falling asleep.
Ujjayi means victorious breath. It is also referred to as ocean breath due to the sound it creates. This breath is often used in asana practice, especially in ashtanga and vinyasa classes. Ujjayi encourages full expansion of the lungs, and – by focusing your attention on your breath – it can assist in calming the mind.
How to do it: Find a place where you can sit comfortably with your back straight. Take a steady breath in through both nostrils. Inhale until you reach your lung capacity; maintain a tall spine. Hold your breath for a second, and then constrict some of the breath at the back of your throat, as if you were about to whisper a secret, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This exhalation will sound like an ocean wave or gentle rush of air. You should feel the air on the roof of your mouth as you exhale. Repeat up to 20 times.
When to do it: This breath can be practiced for up to 10 minutes at any time of day. Try it with an asana practice as well.
Sitali also means cooling, which explains the effect this breathing technique can have on your mind and body. This breath encourages clearing heat with coolness and it is especially helpful every time you feel overheated.
How to do it: Roll your tongue until the outer edges touch, forming a tube. If you can’t curl your tongue, make an oval shape with your mouth, keeping your tongue flat. Inhale through your mouth, taking in all the air that you can. It may make a hissing sound. After inhaling, bring the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and seal your lips. Feel the coolness of the inhalation in your month then exhale through your nose. Repeat five to ten times or as needed.
When to do it: If you are feeling overheated, irritable, end of a sweaty yoga class to balance the heat you’ve created.
Breathing is one of the most natural things we do as humans. It is a gift and a very powerful tool that can enable us to create more ease and balance in our lives. Taking time to focus on the breath allows us to pause from daily stresses, physical symptoms, and emotions that have taken over the mind. It is in that moment where we focus on the breath that we can return to a neutral state of being, gain clarity, feel rejuvenated and enhance an overall sense of wellbeing.
Do you want to try it for yourself? Just relax, start breathing…. And invite pranayama practice into your daily routine!