Take a deep breath, breathe - how often do you hear yourself saying this to people around you or yourself during the day? Breathing - it's easy to take it for granted, but we all know how crucial each breath is to our physical body. By taking control of the breath, slowing the pace or depth of each breath, we can calm our nervous system. Either from a purely scientific window or yogi lens, breath is vital to our life force and intimately connected to our physical and mental bodies. Let's explore what Pranayama yoga breathing exercises are and how these can create positive energy.
What is Pranayama yoga breathing?
The ancient yogis were wise to the power and importance of the breath many moons ago. This explanation is translated from the classic Hatha yoga Pradipika text "Life is the period between one breath and the next: a person who only half breathes, only half lives. A person who breathes correctly acquires control of the whole being".
Yogic breathing, Pranayama is derived from the Sanskrit word "Prana: life force/energy" - Ayama: the regulation or control. Pranayama generally divides the breath into four key components - the inhale Puraka, exhale Recaka, internal breath retention Antah kumbhaka and external breath retention Bahih kumbhaka. According to the Upanishads, Prana is the principle of life and consciousness. Pranayama yoga breathing exercises are the control of breath as a means to expand our vital energy levels.
What are the benefits of Pranayama yoga breathing exercises?
Many clinical studies have examined the benefits and effects of Pranayama. A review of studies (1) conducted in healthy individuals of slow breathing techniques clearly shows how it enhances autonomic, cerebral and psychological flexibility. This impact links parasympathetic and central nervous system activities to improve emotional control and well-being. The authors of this review propose two explanations for these effects: voluntary regulation of internal body states and activation of mechanoreceptors in the nasal cavity.
The benefits of Pranayama translated from the Patanjali Sutras are:
“Tatah Kshiyate Prakasha Avarnam” – As a result of pranayama, the veil of impurities that is covering the light of knowledge is destroyed. Then discriminative knowledge and understanding are gained. (Patanjali Yoga Sutra- 2/52)
“Dharanasu Cha Yogyata Manasah” – As result of Pranayama the mind becomes fit for concentration (Dharana)- (Patanjali Yoga Sutra- 2/53)
Whether practiced as part of a yoga sequence, within meditation techniques or alone, the effect is that controlling our breath results in improvements in our mental and physical wellbeing.
Five yoga breathing exercises for positive energy
Five simple pranayama breathing exercises to try - perfect for beginners:
1. Victorious breath - Ujjayi pranayama
For the Victorious breath inhale and exhale through the nose, with the mouth gently closed. The technique mimics steaming up a cold window with the breath. Try this with your mouth open, breathing onto the palm, then close your mouth and continue to create a constriction at the back of the throat as you breathe slowly and deeply.
2. Alternate nostril breathing - Nadi Shodana
Alternate nostril breathing balances the breath on each side of the nose. The inhale and exhale equal in depth and pace. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with your ring finger and little finger and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left nostril. Repeat to find a balance between the quality of the breath on both sides.
3. Three-part breath - Dirga pranayama
The three-part breath is a simple yoga technique to focus on the depth of the breath. Bring awareness to your natural breath. Place the right hand on your abdomen, feel the breath expand the abdomen and exhale. For the next breath bring focus to the breath in the abdomen and then in the chest, gently placing the left hand on the chest, then exhale. On the next inhale, feel the breath in the abdomen, then the chest and finally the top of the rib cage and throat. On each inhale bring attention to the breath slowly filling up the body before exhaling slowly and fully.
4. Humming bee breath - Bhramari pranayama
The humming bee breath produces the sound of a bumblebee. Gently close your mouth and bring focus to your normal breath through the nose. On the next exhale make a continuous humming sound from your throat. You will feel this vibration in your head and can close your eyes and cover the ears for a more intense experience. Allow a natural inhale and repeat the humming on the exhale, slowing the exhalation.
5. Breath of thirds - Viloma pranayama
Great for beginners the breath of thirds brings attention to the depth and capacity of the lungs. Start by inhaling to a third of your total lung capacity, then pause for two seconds. Inhale another third, pause again and then inhale until the lungs are full. Exhale fully and repeat.
In a world where so much remains outside our control, we can control the most simple yet vital body function. Be sure to take heed of your own words, take a deep breath today and feel the sense of calm, the clouds lifting and your energy rising.
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1. Zaccarro A 2018 How breath control can change your life: a systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing Frontiers in Human Neuroscience https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/