We all can agree breathing is important; after all, if you aren’t breathing, you’re dead. I have talked about breathing before, and had a few exercises around bringing your attention to your breath. Breathing is a cornerstone of yoga and the different breathing methods in yoga can seem a little odd at first. I am going to talk about different ways to breathe; both yoga and non yoga.
Believe it or not, there’s more to it than inhale, exhale and repeat. I draw from my own experience with two types of breathing; Korean Ki Gong and Indian Yogic breath. I’ll describe the breathing philosophies of each and a little about the benefits of each and why I believe them both to be valuable over the course of the next few posts. Today is a little comparison of the general philosophies of each and then a deeper dive into each.
Korean Ki Gong breathing focuses a lot on using breathing to regulate energy (Ki) flow within the body. By using variations of breath a practitioner can settle and calm their energy, accumulate or increase their energy, or raise their energy.
Breathing focuses on the duration of inhale vs. duration of exhale with no holding of the breath in between. The energy (Ki) follows the properties of water. The longer the exhale, the more heat is expelled from the body allowing it to cool and for the energy to settle. Matching that to water, if you put water in the freezer, the liquid freezes and the energetic properties of the water solidify (calm).
By having a longer inhale, the state of one’s energy increases and heat is generated. This is akin to boiling water; it becomes excited as heat is applied, boils and turns to steam. This is the breathing technique favored for warming up before workouts, or for waking oneself up when you feel sluggish.
Using even breathing (inhale and exhale durations being equal) brings a calm, centered state to the body and clarity to the mind. This is the favored breathing for meditation.
Indian Yogic breaths come in many flavors and also focuses on duration of inhale vs. exhale. Two important distinctions are that Yogic breathing does include holding one’s breath in between the inhale and exhale, and the duration of inhale and exhale is almost always even. The breathing techniques for raising energy, calming energy and meditating focus on intensity and cadence of the breath to determine the effect on energy and the body.
In keeping with the water analogy, Kapalabhati breathing is similar to a pump, where air is forced out of the lungs and passively allowed to refill sort of like a squirt gun. This breath (depending on cadence) can be good for focusing the mind and it can boost/awaken your energy.
Bhastrika breath (bellows) is more like a sump pump. It actively pulls air and forces it out. This is great for waking up energy when you feel sluggish.
Alternate Nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is a slow, steady breath done while closing of alternate nostrils with one hand (typically the right hand). This breath is calming, centering and is great setting the mind for meditation.
The invitation for this post is to carve out a little time and sit with these different breathing techniques. I recommend that you spend a little extra time on the techniques that you are not familiar with and see how you react with each one. I would also recommend working with each one multiple times to really let each one land.