One of the biggest benefits yoga offers actually has nothing to do with asana or poses. Instead, it’s all about learning to work with your breathing to quiet the nervous system and hone your focus.
Pranayama is the science of yogic breathing. "Prana" is the Sanskrit word for the energy that permeates all life, and pranayama means “the expansion of life force.”
Why Practice Pranayama?
When you inhale deeply, the lungs expand and the chest wall stretches, stimulating the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain down into the chest and beyond. The pressure on the vagus nerve triggers the body’s natural “relaxation response,” a physical state of deep rest that:
- Slows your heartbeat
- Slows your breathing
- Decreases blood pressure
- Increases levels of nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels to increases oxygen and blood flow
Pranayama helps shift your awareness away from the busyness of the mind, and helps you feel in tune and reconnected to your body. And over time, practicing breath regulation will give you the skills and confidence to self-regulate in many other areas of daily life.
3 Breathing Practices You Should Try
Here are three pranayama practices from my latest book, Holistic Yoga Flow: The Path of Practice.
1. Victorious Breath (Ujjayi)
Ujjayi breath is generated by allowing the flow of breath to pass gently along the glottis, the base of the throat, creating a soft but audible sound.
The sound should be consistent and even on both the inhales and exhales. Ultimately, this sound vibration gives the mind something to sink its teeth into.
Tip: Inhale for four counts with ujjayi sound. Exhale for four counts with ujjayi sound. Repeat ten rounds.
2. Even Breath (Sama Vritti)
In this practice, the inhales and exhales should be even so the same amount of energy that is drawn in is then recycled back out.
Practice tip: Inhale for four counts and hold for two counts. Exhale for four counts and hold for two counts. Repeat ten rounds.
3. Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana)
Nadi Shodhana balances the right and left channels of our system.
Practice tip: Start by emptying the lungs on an exhale. Close the right nostril with the right thumb, and breathe in through the left nostril for four counts. Hold for two counts.
- Inhale for four counts and hold for two counts. Exhale for four counts and hold for two counts.
- Repeat ten rounds. Seal the left nostril with the right ring finger and breathe out through the right nostril for four counts. Hold for two counts. Breathe in through the right nostril for four counts and hold for two counts.
- Seal the right nostril with the right thumb, and breathe out through the left nostril for four counts. Hold for two counts.
- Repeat the cycle eight times.
Try adding these breathing exercises to your daily routine for a month, then feel free to share your results and experience in the comments below.