Yoga: Breathing Techniques
Today, we will focus on some Yogic Breathing Techniques, called Pranayama in Sanskrit. One of the major ways we receive Prana (Life Force) is through the air we breathe. The practice of Pranayama trains us to increase and control the flow of Prana/Chi/Energy within us through various breathing techniques.
We will start with the Complete Breath, called the Three Part Breath. This breathing is slow, long and deep while focusing on three areas of the body. First, we focus on the abdominal region. On the inhalation the diaphragm moves downward and the belly relaxes and expands. The second area is the thoracic region (the ribs and the middle chest). When we inhale, the rib cage expands. The third area is the collar bones, the upper chest and shoulders. On the inhalation we are filling up the lungs. On the exhalation, we are allowing the breath to flow out of the lungs, the middle chest and the abdominal region where the diaphragm moves upward and the belly contracts. You are welcome to experience this type of breathing NOW either lying down or sitting on a chair with your spine straight. Close your eyes and feel the flow of air moving in a wave-like motion smoothly, evenly and with no interruption.
Here are some benefits of the Complete Breath:
It relaxes the body, calms the mind and revitalizes the entire system
When in nature we bring a fresh supply of oxygen to the farthest reaches of the lungs
It re-establishes a new pattern of deep breathing and relaxation
It improves digestion and elimination
It can be practiced throughout the day at anytime and anywhere
Another breathing technique that I would like to introduce to you is called the Alternate Nostril Breathing. This type of breathing is known for balancing the right and left hemisphere of our brain, and is great before Meditation.
Here is the technique:
Form the fingers of your right hand into the Vishnu Mudra - make a soft fist with your thumb in front of your first two fingers and extend your last two fingers; use your thumb to close the right nostril and your ring finger to close the left nostril
Close the right nostril and gently exhale through the left nostril
Inhale through the left nostril, switch sides and exhale through the right nostril
Inhale through the right nostril, switch sides and exhale through the left (one round complete)
Repeat this round as many times as you feel like
This breath is very soft, broad and rhythmically balanced. Just after a few minutes you will settle into its own natural flow. There is almost no sound and no holding of the breath. This breath creates a sense of well being and harmony on the physical, mental and emotional levels. It helps alleviate frazzled state of consciousness and works well on long car rides.
The Breath of Fire is another breathing technique in Yoga tradition for purification and cleansing. Through rapid succession of short, sharp expulsions of breath, the nasal passages are cleaned and purified and the cerebral spinal fluid receives a shift in pressure. This creates a massaging effect on the brain, as a fresh supply of oxygen is brought to every cell creating an aura of light and vitality around the skull.
Come into a comfortable seated position with your spine straight
Take a few deep breaths and relax, then inhale
Exhale sharply through the nostrils by contracting the abdominal muscles
Then passively allow the inhalation to happen
Repeat this several times slowly (for beginners 20x - 30x, for advanced up to 100x)
Once you feel comfortable with the sharp exhalations, the movement of the abdomen and the passive inhalation, you gradually pick up the pace and find your own rhythm. After you are done with the breathing, inhale and then exhale completely. Allow your breath to return to normal.
In the beginning you may wish to practice the Breath of Fire while placing your hands on your belly to support the movement of the abdomen. As you exhale, press your abdomen towards your spine and as you inhale, release the pressing allowing your belly to expand. If you find that you become short of breath, feel light-headed or that you are losing your rhythm, slow down and make sure to give yourself time, pause and take the air on the inhalation. This Pranayama may take some practice, so be patient with yourself and rest when you need to.
The Ocean Breath is performed by taking long, slow and deep breaths while slightly contracting the back of the throat in the area of the glottis. This subtle muscular contraction creates a hissing sound in the back of the throat that sounds like the rising and falling of the ocean tide.
Come into a comfortable seated position with your spine straight or lie down on your back
Begin taking slow, long and deep breaths through the nostrils
Allow the breath to be gentle and relaxed as you slightly contract the back of your throat creating a steady hissing sound as you breath in and out. The sound should not be forced; just allow it to happen naturally
Lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation as much as possible without creating tension anywhere in your body and allow the sound of the breath to be continuous and smooth
You can whisper the sound of OM or HOME while taking long deep breaths in and out. Then let go of the "O" or "HO" and exhale only the "MMM" sound with your mouth closed and listen to the sound of your breath. Continue to make the sound breathing in and out through the nostrils and allow it to become more subtle and refined.
Enjoy and NAMASTE