Here in this article, you will find an ancient secret—it’s called “pranayama”. This method of the ancients was used to help regulate breathing and promote relaxation—something that we could certainly use in the world today. There is much about pranayama and yoga in general that is misunderstood.
Some believe that such practices come from a strange and mystical religion, but the truth is, despite the origin of the breathing techniques themselves, they perform a much-needed service to our physical condition!
The actual exercises are rooted in physiological science and by performing them—regardless of your belief system—you can relax the muscles responsible for respiration! This is a true boon to anyone that has been huffing and puffing because of undue stress and anxiety! You see—when you get right down to it, no matter what you may believe, the 15 easy-to-follow steps mentioned in this article will help you to breathe!
Table of Contents
In this article, you will learn how you can:
- Perfect abdominal and diaphragm breathing
- Develop a routine of pranayama relaxation
- Calm the mind through breathing exercises
- And a whole lot more!
“Still others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath into the incoming breath, while some offer the incoming breath into the outgoing breath, seizing the movement of the outgoing and incoming breaths, intent upon the mastery of the life force.”
Bhagavad Gita IV.29
But first, what is Yoga?
Yoga is more than mere stretching. It exercises the body, mind, and spirit. It’s probably not news to you that yoga is perfect for your wellbeing; the modern popularity of yoga has spread that message very effectively. But now that you’ve learned so much about yoga and its many benefits, you have a much better idea of the reasons for that.
The truth is that yoga, and the way we practice it through meditation and the asanas, reflect how one should live life.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is considered of paramount importance in Yoga. Pranayama is a composite of two Sanskrit words: prana means “vitality,” “the essence” or “the life force” and Ayama means “mastery,” “control” or “regulation.” Pranayama is thus the mastery over the life force. Pranayama is also the mastery over the pauses in breath or over the transition between exhalation, inhalation, and exhalation.
The word Pranayama is made of two basic Sanskrit words-
Pran (प्राण) = Life or Universal Life Energy.
Ayam (आयाम) = to Extend and Elongate.
Pranayama is the fuel of life…
It is common knowledge that pranayama is about breathing exercises. Right? Wrong!
Radhika Shah Grouven divulges some of the secret practices of the mysterious Oral Tradition to challenge this popular belief. Breathing exercises are not pranayama; they prepare you for pranayama. Prana is the life force and pranayama is done with the mind. Pranayama begins where the breath ends. With pranayama, you can harness the unlimited potential of the mind and become a balanced and creative individual.
This is why in this article, you will learn:
- Why most of us do not breathe correctly?
- How to unlearn faulty breathing patterns?
- Why the science of sitting is so important?
- How to get conscious control over your breath?
- How to train the laser-like power of the one-pointed mind?
- How to plunge into the vibrant silence of the breathless state, rest in profound, reasonless joy, and truly enjoy life?
Mastering Pranayama takes you to step by step over 7–8 months to advanced pranayama practices such as Sushumna Kriya, Sandhya Kriya, Kumbhaka, and Yoga Nidra that lead to kundalini awakening.
Difference between Breathing Exercises and Pranayama
Though important, breathing exercises are superficial. They are not considered to be pranayama; they prepare you for pranayama. Pranayama is a deeper practice and can be done mentally.
Through pranayama, you can open the blocked energy channel known as Sushumna and awaken the dormant energy in the body. This is not possible through mere breathing exercises. This may come as a surprise to those who are convinced that pranayama is only about breathing exercises.
Many practitioners of physical culture, even many yoga teachers, believe that pranayama is nothing other than breathing exercises. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Here is an interesting analogy-
You are familiar with the existence of the seven (7) chakras along the spine, which are considered the energy points sustaining life and health.
If these Chakras are the rotating windmills that produce energy to sustain life, then prana is the essential wind energy that makes the hands of a windmill rotate, to produce that energy.
The food post-digestion is excreted from the intestines in form of stool. Impurities in our blood are separated in our kidneys and excreted in form of urine.
The impurities/toxins created at the cellular level are in two forms, liquid and volatile.
The liquid toxins are put out by our skin in form of sweat. (You will be surprised to know that our skin is the largest excretory organ in our body)
The volatile toxins (which are most harmful) are thrown out in form of toxic gases using our lungs when we BREATHE OUT!!!
Pranayama plays a pivotal role here in ridding our bodies of these harmful toxins.
- It supplies our lungs and hence our blood with an abundant supply of fresh oxygen.
- It boosts our immune system.
- It is amazingly effective in calming down your mind.
- It helps in improving our memory, and virility and strengthens our neurological system.
Some of the Pranayama techniques that you’ll discover in this article are as follows:
- Bhastrika Pranayam/ Pranayam of Bellow
- Bahya Pranayam / Exterior Pranayam
- Suryabhedan Pranayam / Pranayam of Sun
- Udgith Pranayam / Pranayam of Resounding ‘Aum’
Note: Everlasting Health is Achievable!! Just accept Yoga into your life with an open heart.
What is Yoga Breathing? Or What is Pranayama Breathing?
Pranayama breathing is a unique way to improve the physical and mental balance of the body. Several techniques can be explored to help facilitate relaxed respiration.
Types of Pranayama Breathing:
Also known as “bellows breath”, “Bhastrika Pranayama” is a type of breathing exercise used to help increase your “prana” or as yoga gurus would have it—your life force. Such things are not to be taken lightly.
Without adequate prana, we become sluggish, slow, tired, and depressed. Sometimes we just need to recharge our prana batteries by improving our breathing. This exercise will allow you to do just that. Start by placing yourself in a sitting posture on a hard-backed chair.
- Raise yourself as high as you can while maintaining a good, straight posture in the seat. Now breathe in as deeply as possible, letting your abdomen fully expand as you do so. After doing this a few times, exhale with sudden force out of your nostrils, before inhaling just as forcefully.
- Repeat this several times. This will enable you to focus your respiration solely through your diaphragm, enabling you to send sudden surges of oxygen to your bloodstream, thereby giving you a sudden burst of energy.
- I know that all this talk of “prana” and “life force” may sound like a bunch of mystical mumbo at first glance.
- But as you can see here, if we just change the terminology, much of what is practiced in exercises like this is very much based on very real, physiological science.
- This is precisely why —regardless of what your belief system might be—these yogic practices have some very real benefits for all of us if we just give them a try ourselves.
This yogic method of breathing will provide an immediate sense of calm and clarity to the mind. But rather than long breaths out of the abdomen, this method employs a series of focused, short and powerful exhalations, followed by a series of gentler inhalations.
This method is meant to clean out the lungs, and there is quite a bit of evidence that this method does help to filter out debris from mucous membranes in the respiratory system.
This method of breathing is especially helpful if you are suffering from allergies or cold and flu symptoms. This exercise has been said to bring about a “natural glow” in its participants, thus the explanation behind the yogic name for it, “skull shining breath”.
The best way to employ this exercise is to sit up straight, with your hands outstretched toward the ceiling, as you breathe in rapid breaths, followed by increasingly gentle, full inhalations.
Also known as “external breathing” this method of pranayama, focuses on keeping our breathing outside of the body. How do you do that you might ask? Well—for starters make sure that you feel your diaphragm as it rises and falls, and your abdomen as it expands in and out.
- Keep a close focus on all of these aspects of your breathing throughout the entire experience. Now exhale with tremendous force, using your abdomen and diaphragm to squeeze as much air as possible outside of your lungs.
- Next, touch your chin to your chest, and try to suck your abdomen in as much as you can (if you have ever been fat and tried to be skinny, you might know how to do this!) until your abdomen is perfectly retracted into your body.
- This exercise will leave you with a hollow space right below your ribcage, leaving your abdomen muscles firmly pressed against your back! Maintain this position as long as you can.
- Finally, lift your chin and begin to slowly inhale, letting your lungs fill with air. Do this as many times as necessary.
Bramari Pranayama is also sometimes known as “bee breath” and as you are about to see—for good reason. This type of exercise utilizes the vocal cords to create a loud intonation for calm. The ancient yogic masters likened it to the bumbling of a bee. This breathing exercise provides great relief to any agitation or stress that you may be feeling.
- Try to sit as near as you can to a wall or corner, to help facilitate focus, and sit up straight in either a chair or right down on the floor.
- Now place each one of your index fingers into your ear canals, and press down on the cartilage that resides between your ear and cheek.
- Inhale, and exhale; as you breathe out press down on this cartilage structure with your fingers. Do this while humming as loud as you can, sounding like something akin to a bee.
- Repeat this entire process several times until you feel better. On the surface, this may seem like an odd exercise, but it does work! The only trouble is, when you are sitting at your cubicle in the middle of the day, holding your ears and buzzing like a bumblebee, your co-workers just might think you have lost your mind!
Purna Svasana Pranayama
To engage in this breathing exercise seat yourself in a relaxed position, it doesn’t’ matter where it could be on the floor or the couch.
- Now lift each hand over your head and rest your arms on the back of each shoulder, with each elbow bent toward your head. This position will help to expand and stretch out your chest muscles to their maximum extent.
- Interestingly enough, those that are frequent sufferers of asthma have found this aspect of the exercise alone tremendously helpful to help free them from their often-constricted bronchial tubes.
- As an asthma sufferer, I can personally vouch for this one myself. I often wake up unable to breathe, feeling like my lungs, or bronchial passages are closing up on me. Any asthma patient knows just how distressing this feeling is.
- With your bronchial tubes inside your lungs closing up into narrow little straws, no matter how much you struggle to breathe and get the air into your lungs, it remains stopped up in the back of your throat. Well, there is indeed good news—because this exercise will help to open those gateways of air so that oxygen can better come in and out of the body.
- For this exercise, you will need to sit in the standard “lotus” position with your legs crossed and your back completely straight.
- Now take your thumb and use it to close your right nostril, with your nostril closed in this manner, breath in through your open left nostril. After you have done this, open your right nostril and close your left nostril.
- Now breathe out of your right nostril. Repeat this exercise several times before closing both nostrils and holding your breath for about 30 seconds, or so.
- As you continue to practice this routine attempt to expand that 30-second window of holding your breath for longer and longer periods.
- You can start your first session with just 30 seconds, but then the next day, try 45 seconds, and the day after that a full minute. It is of course not recommended to hold your broth much longer than a minute.
- We are trying to reset and recalibrate the performance of our lungs after all—not trying to pass out! At any rate, if done correctly, this exercise will serve to help cleanse and calm your body’s regulatory systems. It serves to improve the function of the nasal cavities concerning the respiratory system.
Breathing Exercises of Yoga?
Breathing Yoga for Beginners #1: Observe your breath when you are relaxed and happy. How many seconds long are your exhalation and inhalation? Is your breath shallow or deep? Do you experience any jerks or pauses in the breath? Does the breath flow smoothly? Study your breath at different times of the day.
Observing the breath means observing the mind. If the mind is calm, the breath is calm. You can observe the correlation between your mental state and your breath. When you are angry, you breathe rapidly, and the breath is very shallow.
The primitive instinct of fight-or-flight manifests itself in the breath as the body prepares itself for a stressful situation. When you are shocked or scared, you tend to hold your breath. It is relatively difficult to observe the breath and study its nature when you are angry or afraid since you are caught up in the situation.
It is easier to study your breath when you are calm. You will observe that when you are relaxed, your breath is deep and slow. However, this is not a one-way relationship. The inverse is also true: calming your breath calms your mind.
Breathing Yoga for Beginners #2: When you are disappointed or feeling lonely observe the breath. Is the breath short and shallow? Allow the breath to slow down and go deeper. Does the slow and deep breath help transform your mood?
You can use the breath as a handle to slowly gain mastery over the mind. However, mastery over the mind does not mean control and manipulation of the mind, it means witnessing the nature of the mind.
Generally, you do not witness the thoughts in the mind, you just fall into whatever thought is rising in the conscious mind. If it is a pleasant thought, you get attached to it, and if it is an unpleasant thought, you experience aversion.
Both attachments, as well as aversion, are twin sides of a single coin. By observing the breath, you regain your awareness and can observe the mental states, which in turn helps calm the mind.
Breathing Yoga for Beginners #3: Observing the connection between breath and mind means learning to observe the mind.
TIP: Breathe slowly to live longer.
Breathing Yoga for Beginners #4: Visualize yourself running away from danger for a couple of minutes. You can imagine anything that you are really afraid of, such as an aggressive animal. How long do you think you can keep running away from this imaginary danger? Or, how is your breathing? How is your mental state?
The kind of extreme stress most people leading an ambitious and competitive lifestyle are exposed to is like being chased by an aggressive dog.
From the visualization exercise, it must be clear that chronic emotional stress, in this case, the flight mode, can have a massive health impact. You cannot keep running for days or weeks. Yet, the modern person lives under this kind of stress for months, even years.
Breathing Yoga Techniques? Or Pranayama Techniques for Beginners?
This article covers three basic Yoga Breathing Exercises, such as Kapalbathi, Surya Bedi, and Bhastrika. You’ll learn how to do them step-by-step and how to do breathing exercises sequentially. You’ll be able to do Breathing Exercises every morning without having a Yoga Teacher to guide you.
You’ll learn the philosophical and psychological background of taking control. The purpose of this guide is to walk you through that inner path that helps you gain back full control over your life in whatever circumstances you have.
The more control you feel in your life, the happier you feel yourself. If you don’t think your control over your life is a key component of your happiness — then this article is not for you.
You need some mental shifts to be ready to transform your life. You’ll also learn how to do the most basic Meditation.
Breathing Exercises are the most basic Meditation. We will go just 1 step further, and you’ll learn what the most basic Meditation is. After this, you’ll be able to Meditate anytime, under any circumstances.
This is an all-time-favorite question of many people who start Meditation:
“What should I do if I lose focus?”
I’ve collected the most effective methods to eliminate and reduce distractions. Most distractions come from within. There are mental techniques that you can use to reduce and later eliminate all inner frictions. You’ll also learn how to deal with external distractions, for example using a timer and how to disconnect completely when you do your daily Breathing Exercises.
- You’ll learn how to control your emotions
- We only have control over our thoughts. But that’s enough.
- Through Your thoughts, you’ll gain control over your emotions.
- It’ll help you reduce stress and anxiety. You can work out your way from depression, no matter what your current situation is. You’ll learn how to reduce shame and guilt. You’ll be more aware of yourself.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
- The ones who practice breathing exercises can control their thoughts.
- The ones who controls their thoughts controls their emotions.
- The ones who controls their emotions controls their acts.
- The ones who controls their acts controls their habits.
- The ones who controls their habits controls their life.
- The ones who controls their life are happy.
- Use Breathing Exercises to gain control over your thoughts, emotions, acts, habits, and your entire life.
Are You Breathing Right?
No one ever asked you this question before, and you never thought about it. Unfortunately, it is true: most of us do not know how to breathe right. Lesson one is unlearning wrong breathing habits.
How to Breathe When Doing Yoga?
There are several things you can do to change faulty breathing for yourself as well as for others, such as:
1. Do not make infants and children wear tight clothes.
2. Baby diapers should not be too tight.
3. Leave two-finger space for the baby or infant to breathe freely.
4. Wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing at least at home.
5. Do not reinforce this contrived self-image of health and beauty.
6. Learn to breathe correctly.
The 7 Step Program breathing yoga for beginners:
Now that you have understood why most of us breathe incorrectly, we come to the core of Mastering Pranayama: the 7 Step Program.
This program takes you to step by step from simple remedial techniques to advanced practices. At first, the program may seem too simple, but on deeper study and practice, you will discover it to be challenging. Remember, the best practitioners fail because they are overconfident and skip the basics. Do not overestimate your capacity. Begin slowly and expand your capacity gradually.
The 7 Step Program includes:
1. establishing natural and effortless diaphragmatic breathing
2. establishing the even or equal breath, that is, the length of exhalation is equal to the length of inhalation
3. establishing silent breathing
4. establishing smooth breathing, that is, no jerky breathing
5. eliminating pauses between exhalation, inhalation, and exhalation
6. establishing the elongated breath, that is, increasing the length of exhalation and inhalation
7. beginning to understand, experience, and eventually attain mastery over prana itself
The best of practitioners would require at least eight months until Step 6 is mastered. The average practitioner, who does not practice every day, would require at least a year to integrate this method into his life.
It is important that you neither rush through the program nor push your body beyond its limits.
The breathing techniques of pranayama are vital for yoga, as there’s an underlying link between the asanas and pranayama.
You see, in a conventional yoga class, with a yoga teacher, you’re taught to consciously control your breathing. Many of us are accustomed to just breathing, period. We don’t inhale or exhale because we want to; it’s just autopilot.
When practicing yoga, the efficiency of both your physical exercise and spiritual meditation can be measured by your breathing.
Breathing consciously allows you to maintain balance, it gives you more strength, endurance, and flexibility, and above everything, it gives you peace to reconnect with your inner self.
Learn the following breathing techniques, and try to add them during your asanas.
Ocean Breath (in Sanskrit “Ujjayi Pranayama”)
This is a classic breathing technique, perfect for relaxation and meditation.
To perform it during your yoga practice: Focus solely on your breath, inhaling deeply through your nose and then exhaling slowly, audibly making the “ah” sound. Repeat a couple of times, and then close your mouth.
Alternating Nostril Breath (in Sanskrit “Nadi Shodhana Pranayama”)
This therapeutic breathing technique allows you to clean and unblock your nasal cavities.
To perform it during your yoga practice: Finish your asana sequence, and then prepare your mind to meditate or relax.
Bring your right hand in front of your nose, close your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through the left nostril. Now close your left nostril with your right forefinger, open the right nostril, and exhale slowly through it.
Now switch (inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left) and complete the cycle. Repeat it from 3 to 5 times.
Breath Retention (in Sanskrit “Kumbhaka Pranayama”)
This breathing technique lets you improve your lung capacity.
To perform it during your asana practice: Finish your asana sequence, and then prepare your mind to meditate or relax.
Inhale as much as you can, filling your lungs to the max. Hold your breath for 10 seconds, and then try to inhale even more. Exhale, and wait a few seconds before trying it again. Do it 3 to 5 times.
Breath of Fire (in Sanskrit “Kapalbhati Pranayama”)
This rapid breathing technique is meant to give you a kick-start when you’re feeling lethargic or mentally numb.
To perform it during your asana practice: Take a deep inhale, and then exhale slowly. Now, inhale again, deeply, but exhale quickly, using your lower abs to push the air out. The trick is inhaling slowly and deeply, and then exhaling quickly. Repeat this process between 25 and 30 times.
When to Inhale and Exhale During Yoga?
Most of the Pranayama is to be performed while sitting in the ‘Sukhasan’ position.
Sukhasan (the Simple Sitting Pose)
1. Sit on the mat with your legs stretched in front.
2. Fold the right leg and tug in below the left thigh.
3. Then, fold the left leg and tug it between the right thigh and calf.
4. Sit straight with an erect spine. (It is how we generally sit on the floor and fold our legs.)
As mentioned before, “breath control” or pranayama refers to achieving the proper way of breathing through a set of techniques to alter how we breathe.
The intention is to produce specific positive results to amplify our life force.
Several forms of pranayama exist, and they’re often based on puraka (inhalation), kumbhaka (retention), and recaka (exhalation). Each element can get very complex, but the general idea should be enough for starters.
Short Breathing Tips
Generally, you should:
1. Exhale when bending forward.
2. Inhale when lifting or puffing the chest.
3. Exhale as you twist.
Dangers of Incorrect Breathing Exercises
While breathing exercises are preparation for pranayama practices and meditation, how these breathing exercises are generally practiced cannot lead to a direct experience of prana. Untrained or poorly trained teachers organize what they call advanced pranayama seminars and workshops.
They teach exercises like breath retention known as Kumbhaka and other complicated exercises. Many of these so-called teachers are just experimenting on their students while the students themselves remain unaware of the dangers of incorrectly practiced techniques, which can disturb the pranic vehicles.
Disturbance of pranic vehicles can lead to many imbalances causing, among others:
- Erratic mood changes
- Tendency to colds and congestion
- Damage to finer lung tissue
Rather than doing a lot of different techniques, it is advisable to focus on a couple of simple remedial exercises to start with.
Follow these two simple guidelines:
- Avoid teachers that mix practices from different traditions.
- If you do not find a qualified and experienced teacher, then practice and master diaphragmatic breathing.
Related: Sun Salutation: A Step-By-Step Guide