Yogic breathing is healthy and good for us and something we do at the end of a yoga class while planning dinner, the next meeting or what to do this weekend. Well, at least that is where I started. I have since spent many years exploring the different types of breathing (who knew it wasn’t just breath in, breath out, repeat) and offer a breakdown of the different breathing techniques and some ideas on how to benefit from their use.
To that end, I have divided up seven techniques into three categories. Foundational breathing techniques, Energizing breathing techniques and Calming or Meditative breathing techniques; each has its own set of benefits, contraindications and uses.
Foundational breathing techniques; a great place to start getting in touch and learning to guide breathing.
Dirgha – 3 Part Breath – A foundational breathing technique that opens the full capacity of the lungs. It focuses on getting the practitioner in touch with their breathing and opening up the lungs to their fullest capacity. By concentrating on getting the diaphragm moving, this lays the foundation for full, deep breathing all day long.
Ujjayi – Ocean Sounding Breath – This foundational breathing technique can be used on its own or layered on top of other techniques. It involves constricting the back of the throat slightly which produces an ocean sound when you breathe.
Energizing breathing techniques; great for increasing your energy, focus and concentration.
Kapalabhati – Active Exhale/Passive Inhale – I like this one because it is a quick and easy “pick me up” when I am feeling a little sluggish. Quick forceful exhales and passive inhales are easy to do, inconspicuous (for those train rides) and have quick results.
Alternate Nostril Kapalabhati – Alternate Nostril Active Exhale/Passive Inhale – The same as above, except using alternate nostrils for inhale and exhale.
Bhastrika – Active Inhale and Exhale – Also known as Bellows Breath. This is in my experience the fastest acting energizer. Not to be done before bed because it is likely to keep you awake. But looking for something to combat the 2pm sluggishness, this is my breathing technique of choice.
Although bellows breathing is a safe practice, stay tuned in to your body during the process. If you feel light-headed or very uncomfortable, stop for a few moments before deciding to resume in either a less intense manner or a less intense breath.
Meditative breathing techniques; excellent ways to calm and center your mind.
Nadi Shodhana – Channel Purifying Breath – This is an alternate nostril breathing technique. The work is typically done with the right hand. It starts by closing off the right nostril and inhaling through the left then switching to exhale. The change of open nostril is done on the exhale. I typically like to start with a foundational breath before moving into Nadi Shodhana. This is a great breathing technique, but I strongly recommend that you keep a tissue handy and/or clear your sinuses before starting…..
Many traditions teach a ratio of inhale to exhale time. In the beginning, this may cause mental tension. I generally recommend that beginning students let their breath happen naturally.
Anuloma Viloma – Smooth Alternate Nostril with Holding time. Anuloma Viloma takes Nadi Shodhana and adds a hold time between inhale and exhale. The benefit to the hold time is to draw the senses further inward and create a more introspective mindset. As with Nadi Shodhana, keep some tissues handy and clear the sinuses before you begin. Because the goal of this is to create a deeply meditative state, I like to start with foundational breathing, move to Nadi Shodhana and only after I have a smooth and long breathing cycle will I move to Anuloma Viloma.
There are a lot of resources available on the internet and in yoga and meditation schools that can be resources for your own explorations. In upcoming posts, I’ll delve into each of these individually over the next few weeks in greater detail. These breathing techniques along with a steady meditation practice are fantastic ways to improve health, feel better and live happier. And better, as the instructor in the next yoga class starts flying through the breathing techniques, you’ll have a great reference to what they are talking about.