Modern research is finally catching up to what yogi’s have known all along: breath work can produce powerful benefits. Yoga tells us that the mind and the breath are closely related. We can learn a lot by watching our breath. When we are anxious, fearful, or angry, our breath becomes quick and irregular. On the other hand, when we are calm and relaxed, our breath is slow and steady. Just as our emotions can influence our breath, the reverse is also true, our breath can influence our emotions.
The yogic term Pranayama means breath control. Becoming mindful of the breath is an important part of the hatha yoga practice. The average person breathes 15-20 times a minute; this is more than double the rate that we should be breathing.
Deep breathing allows for better gas exchange and removes stagnant air from the lungs. Instead of using our diaphragm, we take quick and shallow breathes from the chest. Yoga teaches us to slow down and deepen the breath utilizing the diaphragm, our breathing muscle. Try a few of the practices below and see for yourself how pranayama can affect your energy and mood.
There are 3 main parts to the yogic breath. During our practice we will touch all three parts of the yogic breath:
2. Inhale deeply through the nostrils and feel the hand on your belly rise. As you exhale feel the hand on your belly fall. Continue for a few breaths.
3. Deepen you breath and as you inhale feel the belly rise and then the chest expand to the sides and the collarbones rise. Exhale and let everything go. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Nadi Shodhana- Part 1
1.) Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place the left hand on your lap in chin mudra, thumb and index finger touching and last three fingers extended straight.
2.) Place your right hand in front of your face. Bend the index and middle fingers towards the palm. Place the right thumb on the right nostril closing it.
3.) With your eyes closed, fix your gaze in between the eyebrows. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril. Try to inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. Repeat for 10-15 breathes. (Figure 2)
4.) Close the left nostril with the ring finger and pinky and breath in and out of the right nostril. Again, try to inhale and exhale for a count of four deepening the breath. Repeat for 10-15 breaths. (Figure 3)
5.) Inhale through the right nostril; close the right nostril; exhale through the left nostril; inhale through the left nostril; close the left nostril; exhale through the right nostril. Repeat for a few moments.
6.) Release the right hand and place it in chin mudra on your lap. Try to breath equally through both nostrils for a few moments.
Figure 2 (left) : With right thumb over right nostril- breath in and out of left nostril
Figure 3 (right): With right ring finger over left nostril- breath in and out of right nostril
Important Points to Remember When Practicing Pranayama
Do not force the breath. If you feel any light headed or any stress stop the practice. This practice is not recommended for those pregnant or with serious health issues. Practice under the supervision of a certified yoga teacher is strongly recommended.