Yoga breathing is also called Pranayama which is one of the eight limbs of yoga. It involves a series of breathing exercises. In the language of yoga, proper breathing is vital to enhance the flow of oxygen to the blood and to the brain. The different asanas of yoga are performed in conjunction with Pranayama. Together the asanas and Pranayama are known to purify the mind and the body. Pranayama establishes a perfect balance between the inhalation of oxygen into the body and the exhalation of carbon dioxide. It helps in flushing out the waste toxins from the body.
Why breathing is important?
Our breath is our guide as believed by most yogis. It focuses on our inner selves and is the vital friend which keeps us alive. It is also a vital part of many yoga asanas.
Breathing supplies the blood and various organs of the body with oxygen. It helps in getting rid of toxic wastes from our body. Oxygen supplies the body with nutrients and purifies the blood stream.
By default our breathing is very shallow. Due to this we cut the supply of oxygen to the blood and the brain which reduces the natural elimination of carbon dioxide. As a result of this quick and shallow breathing the body starts building unnecessary toxins. This in turn results in the loss of function of some of the organs within the body, as they are not exercised enough. We also tend to lose our vitality and weaken the immune system as a whole.
Let us look into the right way of breathing and its importance thereof.
You may wonder if there is a correct way of breathing…
The right way of breathing is through your nose. The nose has certain defensive structures like the mucous membrane & hair, which prevent the entry of pathogens into the lungs and thereby your blood stream. This helps build resistance and also enhance your sense of smell.
By breathing right we enhance the lung capacity and thus purify our blood and the body. We also develop resistance and enhance the vitality of various organs within the body. Breathing also stores a large amount of energy which combats disease. On the whole it rejuvenates the entire body.
Stages of yoga breathing
There are four different stages of breathing in yoga. They form a complete breathing cycle or pattern which has great benefits to the body.
- This is a smooth inhalation through the nose.
- It does not involve any gaps or breaks while breathing.
- Abhyantara kumbhaka – Pause after inhaling (Full pause)
- This stage involves holding your breath deliberately once it fills your belly and the lungs.
- It is important to remain motionless while practicing this stage.
- This stage is the smooth exhalation process just like the puraka. The exhalation has to be smooth and continuous.
- You have to release all the air slowly through your nose without stopping or breaking the breath at any stage.
- You have to be able to get rid of all the air in the body.
- Bahya Kumbhaka – Pause after exhaling (Empty pause)
- This is the last stage of yoga breathing which involves a deliberate pause once the body is rid of all the carbondioxide.
Upon completion of this stage, you start gain from the puraka.
Types of breathing
There are four different types of breathing. They are as following:
This form of breathing is also called clavicular breathing. It involves the upper part of the chest and the lungs. It is a very shallow form of breathing as it uses the upper lobes of the lungs which have very little air capacity. It does not involve expansion of the ribs which is normally suggested in the correct form of breathing and uses a lot of energy stored within the body.
Low breathing is also called abdominal breathing is an effective form of breathing in comparison to the high and middle breathing. It involves greater movement of the lungs as more air is taken whilst inhaling. The air goes into the abdomen through the diaphragm. This it also enhances circulation of oxygen into the venal system and the abdominal organs. It thus also massages the abdominal organs.
Middle breathing involves the intake of oxygen into the middle part of the lungs. It involves the rise of the ribs as the oxygen enters into the middle parts of the lungs. It also involves slight movement of the diaphragm and the abdomen. It is also called thoracic breathing. Middle breathing is another form of shallow breathing as it expands the chest and the lungs but sideways. It is definitely better than high breathing but inferior to low breathing.
This form of breathing is a combination of the high, low and middle breathing. It involves the entire respiratory system whilst breathing. It is the recommended form of breathing of yoga as it is the deepest form of breathing. It expands the shoulders, collar bones, the entire ribcage and chest, diaphragm, abdomen and the lower abdomen. It enhances increased supply of oxygen to the blood and the brain and to various organs of the body. This is because one tends to take in more air into the body as the breathing is deeper. It is important to practice complete breathing before practicing the other yoga breathing exercises.
Alternate nostril breathing
This form of breathing uses each nostril to inhale and exhale. Thus it establishes a balance in the way we breathe.
Sit in cross-legged or lotus position. Place your left palm on your left knee. Open your right palm and fold the pointer finger and the tall finger into your palm. Keep the other fingers (thumb, ring finger and the little finger) open. Bring the thumb close to the right nostril and the ring finger and the little finger close to the left nostril. Press your thumb against the right nostril and inhale deeply through the left. Once you breathe in deeply close the left nostril with your ring finger and release your thumb from the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril.
Now inhale deeply through the right nostril and close it with the thumb and exhale through the left by releasing your ring finger. Repeat this breathing for at least 10 times.
This is a very simple form of breathing which is practiced to balance the inhalation and exhalation process.
Sit down in a comfortable cross-legged position. Inhale to a count of 3-5 and exhale to the same count. You can slowly increase the number on practice but ensure that the breathing count is the same for inhalation and exhalation.
Practice this breathing for at least 10 minutes.
Cooling breath is a form of breathing that cools and calms your entire body. You can practice this breathing exercise after a strenuous workout or after a tired day.
Sit down with your legs crossed. Open your mouth and roll your tongue. Bring your lips together in the form of an ‘o’ and let the tip of your tongue stick out of your mouth. Inhale through your mouth through your rolled tongue and exhale through your nose. Repeat this breathing for at least 10 times. You can increase the count on regular practice.
This breathing enhances power and focus in the way you breathe. This breathing can be used even while asana practice.
Sit down in a cross-legged position. You can first practice this breathing with the mouth. Once you are able to do it perfectly with your mouth you can start practicing it with your nose. Constrict the passage of air at the throat, so that on inhalation or exhalation, you make a hissing sound. The sound produced is completely dependent on the extent of the constriction of air in and through your throat.
Practice this breathing for at least 5 times initially with the mouth and then you can start practicing the same through your nose keeping your mouth closed. Once you are able to do it properly you can increase the count to at least 10 times.
Skull shining breath
This form of breathing cleanses, invigorates and aids in the prevention of diseases and allergies within the body.
Sit on the floor in a cross-legged or lotus position. Slowly inhale through the nose. Exhale forcefully and quickly through your nose and draw your belly deeper towards your spine while exhaling.
Ensure your belly is pumping out air through your nose with each exhalation. This should be done in a quick, sharp and forceful manner.
You can practice this breathing for as many counts as you can (even up to a 100 count or more). It also aids in toning the abdominal organs.
Three part breath
This breathing is great for calming and soothing the mind. It is best when practiced in a lying position.
Lie down on the floor, keeping your spine flat across the floor. Relax your shoulders and the rest of the body. Relax your mind. Slowly breathe in through your nose and let the air flow into your belly. Inhale to an extent which causes your belly to rise to its fullest. Pause for a second and then inhale further to expand your rib cage, like your belly. Pause again and then slowly start releasing air out of your ribcage first, then the upper abdomen and finally force all the air out of your lower abdomen (this should draw your naval to your spine – as you will be emptying your belly completely).
Upon regular practice of this form of breathing, you will be able to feel the air passing through your ribcage into the lower abdomen and then the upper abdomen and finally the ribcage. Practice this breathing for at least 10-15 minutes.
This breathing is usually practiced during lion’s pose, but can also be included in the regular breathing exercises.
Sit down on your heels from a kneeling position. Rest your palms on your knees with your fingers spread across the knees (like you are holding them). Inhale through your nose. Open your mouth and drop your tongue out as far as possible and exhale through your mouth making a ‘Ha’ sound on exhalation.
Benefits of Yoga Breathing – Pranayama
Breathing is an automatic function of our body which is performed without any difficulty and without any concentration.
Then why practice yoga breathing – Pranayama?
If you notice, a common person’s breath is very shallow. We just learnt that that form of breathing is just for living. It is not beneficial as the air does not reach the lungs completely. Pranayama teaches a proper way to breathe. This helps increase the capacity of the lungs and enhances the supply of oxygen to the body.
- The right way of breathing which is Pranayama, is known to fight diseases and allergies. This is done by eliminating the toxins and wastes within the body whilst exhaling carbon dioxide out of the body.
- It enhances the metabolic activities within the body
- Improves digestion as there is pressure on the abdominal organs
- Improves concentration and focus. Brings an awareness of one’s own body
- Fights stress and anxiety. It calms the mind.
- Promotes a positive self-control and fights any negative emotions. Clears the mind and the body as a whole.
- Many ancient yoga practitioners believe that Pranayama is the first step to a greater spiritual journey as it makes way for heights of meditation by improving focus and concentration.
So you now know the importance of breathing not only for yoga but for your life and well being in general. Embrace it to adopt all the benefits that follow the yoga breathing techniques.
If you are new to yoga, start with the basic breathing exercises to stretch those internal organs through breathing and continue to do so whilst practicing the various asanas of yoga and also in your day- to-day life.