Pranayama is classically defined as the regulation of the breath through certain exercises and techniques. Most of us don’t pay attention to our breath. As a matter of fact, most of us aren’t even aware that it exists. Imagine taking a second out of your day to focus on how your inhalations and exhalations feel. Now, imagine focusing on your breath awareness in a more specific way, sort of like a dance of the breath? That is pranayama. There are many benefits to all forms of pranayama, including greater focus on the present moment, allowing oneself to have greater focus on the body and breath during your yoga practice, cooling the body, and allowing our minds to become more relaxed, calm, and balanced. Below, i’ll describe a few different types of pranayama. Feel free to even give them a try…they are so much fun and have excellent benefits!
Ujjayi Pranayama/Ocean breath
This breath is generally used in vinyasa yoga, as we link breath and movement throughout the practice. In a comfortable seated position, begin to inhale and exhale out through the mouth. Once you begin exhaling, begin to constrict the passage of air from the back of the throat. This phase can be similar to fogging up glasses. After some practice, begin to apply the same constriction and toning of the throat when inhaling. You’ll start to notice that your breath is now starting to sound like waves of an ocean. Keep practicing, and even begin to apply this to your asana, or yoga pose, practice.
Three-Part Breath/Dirga Pranayama
This pranayama is best to do lying on your back, in my opinion. That is not to say that it can’t be done in a comfortable seated position. The benefits of doing it on your back, however, are that that you truly feel the breath moving through your body as it makes contact with the ground beneath you. To begin three-part breath, lie on your back, relaxing the whole body and face, with the eyes closed. Begin with natural inhalations and exhalations, Use these inhalations and exhalations to keep your mind focused from distractions. When you start to inhale from your nose, fill up the belly with your breath. Imagine expanding the belly with air like a balloon. On each exhale, let the air out of your belly from your nose. To ensure that the belly is empty of air, make sure that your draw your belly into your spine. To get the greatest effect from this exercise, repeat it for about five breaths. On the next inhalation, do the same inhalation of filling up the belly with air . Once the belly is full, draw in a little bit more breath into the body. Let that air expand into the rib cage. This should cause the ribs to widen apart. On the exhalation, release the air from the rib cage, letting the rib’ slide closer together, and finally drawing the navel back towards the spine to release air from the belly. After repeating this deep breathing for about five breaths, begin to fill up the belly and the rib cage with air once again. This time, however, draw in a little more air ad let it fill the upper chest. This breath is now going all the way up into the collarbone,. This causes the ares around the heart, or the heart center, to expand and rise. During your exhalation, let the breath release from the upper chest, allowing the heart to sink back down, then release air from the rib cage, allowing the ribs to slide closer together. Finally release air from the belly. Remember, always continue this breath at your own pace.
Alternate Nostril Breathing/Nadi Sodhana
To begin this pranayama, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. You’'ll start by using your right hand. With your right hand, fold your pointer and middle fingers into your palm. This leaves your thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger sticking up. This is also known as a Vishnu Mudra. You’’ll then bring your thumb to the right side of your nose, while your ring finger is at the left side. With your thumb, close off your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.Close off your left nostril with your ring finger. Open and exhale through your right nostril. Than inhale through your right nostril. Close off your right nostril with your thumb, and open and exhale through your left nostril. Then inhale through your left nostril. Continue this breath cycle for about 5-10 times.
I love doing this pranayama at the end of a vigorous yoga session, since it cools down the body. It is also best done in hot weather due to its cooling effects on the body. As with most forms of pranayama, shitali pranayama can be done in a comfortable seated position. To prepare, take about 2-3 deep breath cycles (inhalations and exhalations), through the nose to prepare. Roll the tongue, curling the sides in towards the center of the mouth to form a tube. Stick the end of the tongue out between your pursed lips. Inhale through the tube of the tongue, and then exhale through the nose. Start to notice the cooling effects that take place through the back of the throat through inhalation. In order to feel the true cooling effect, repeat this about 5-10 times.
That’s about t for now! I did not want to overwhelm you guys and throw out too many forms of pranayama. Sometimes it’s best to familiarize ourselves with the benefits, and then learn a few more types later on. Stayed tuned for part 2, where I’ll describe the four last types of pranayama that I have learned and am familiar with.