Table of contents
- 4th Limb of Yoga – Pranayama (Breathing) – Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Pranayama Practices
- Pranayama Quotes
- Today’s Practice
4th Limb of Yoga – Pranayama (Breathing) – Diaphragmatic Breathing
Before we get into detailed breakdown of the Asana Series poses from yesterday, we will take two days to cover the remaining 8 Limbs of Yoga – Pranayama or breath, and the Upper Limbs.
Pranayama (PRA-na-YA-muh) literally translates from Sanskrit to English as Energy (Prana) Expansion (Ayam). The most common translations of Pranayama are breath or breathing. The literal translation, along with the fact that breathing is its own Limb of Yoga like Asanas / poses or Yamas / ethics, should indicate how important breath is for Yogis. Most of us who have attended classes at Yoga Studios learn quickly that Yoga is more than exercise, and Breath is both a focus and frequently its own portion of studio Yoga classes.
I wanted to cover Pranayama and Diaphragmatic Breath before getting to the detail of each Asana, because breathing is as much a part of Sun Salutations as the poses themselves! If you do not typically focus on breathing during your Yoga practice, please consider setting Breath as your intention at the start of your next session.
We recommend incorporating this Diaphragmatic breath into your Asana practice, and bring it forward into meditation!
When I first started practicing Yoga, I was shocked to learn I was breathing “wrong.” This shallow chest breathing seems to be the American Way – try for yourself! Put one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly. Breathe in and out, and notice when the hands resting on your belly and chest move to indicate expansion. You SHOULD use your diaphragm and breathe into your belly, so your belly expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. Most of us breathe shallowly into our chest only, and our belly hand never moves!
How to – Diaphragmatic Breath
- Place your hands
Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly
Breathe in and make sure your belly expands, pushing your hand out as your entire torso fills with air
Breathe out, contracting the belly, making sure you empty the lungs completely
Continue breathing in to a full count of 6, and out to a full count of 6, using your diaphragm to fill your lungs with air, and contract the belly to empty lungs completely. Focus on keeping your chest hand fairly still, and using your diaphragm to breathe into your belly.
Yogic Breath / Three Part Breath
We recommend incorporating this breath technique into your Asana practice, and bringing it forward into meditation! This is also a great calming technique for anxiety!
Start with a couple Diaphragmatic Breaths to center.
- PART 1 – Belly: Diaphragmatic breathing is the first part of three part breath! Make sure you complete 10 full inhalations and exhalations, counting to 6 for each inhale and exhale.
- PART 2 – Ribs: After 10 complete belly breaths, after expanding into your belly – try expanding your rib cage outwards on inhales and allowing to compress on exhales.
- PART 3 – Chest: After 10 full inhale and exhalations with rib cage expansion – first fill your belly, then expand rib cage, then try allowing your clavicle (collar bone) to rise as you fill and empty your lungs completely for another 10 breaths.
Ujjayi Pranayama – Ocean Breath
This is literally translated from Sanskrit as Victorious Breath, but is commonly referred to as Ocean Breath due to the sound of this technique. This is another great cooling and calming breathing technique, and is ideal during Asana practice. You may have learned this in Yoga class before, especially if you have attended a Hot Yoga class.
Start with Diaphragmatic Breathing for 3 full inhales and exhales.
Open your mouth and inhale and exhale through your mouth. Contract your throat to slightly say “HA” on the exhales. Keep this light contraction in your throat so you slightly say “SA” on the inhales. You will start noticing the ocean sound from which this technique gets its name.
Now, close your mouth. Inhale and exhale through your nose, while keeping this contraction in your throat to keep the ocean sound continuing on both inhales and exhales. As you become comfortable with this breathing technique, try your Asana practice with this Ujjayi Pranayama.
Vilona Pranayama – Retained Breath
Vilona Pranayama translates as “against the wave” and is a retained breath technique. We recommend incorporating this breath technique into your Asana practice if poses are held for an extended period! Or, you can use this cooling breath technique to calm down after an active workout, or to help with anxiety.
Start with a couple Diaphragmatic Breaths to center.
- VARIATION 1 – Retain before Inhale: Diaphragmatic breathing is the first part of this breath! Make sure you complete 10 full inhalations and exhalations, counting to 6 for each inhale and exhale. Then, hold your breath for a count of 6 before each inhale. Your breath pattern will be Inhale 6, Exhale 6, Hold 6, Inhale 6…
- VARIATION 2 – Retain before Exhale: Diaphragmatic breathing is the first part of this breath! Make sure you complete 10 full inhalations and exhalations, counting to 6 for each inhale and exhale. Then, hold your breath for a count of 6 before each exhale. Your breath pattern will be Inhale 6, Hold 6, Exhale 6, Inhale 6…
- VARIATION 3 – Retain before Inhale and Exhale: Diaphragmatic breathing is the first part of this breath! Make sure you complete 10 full inhalations and exhalations, counting to 6 for each inhale and exhale. Then, hold your breath for a count of 6 before each inhale AND exhale. Your breath pattern will be Inhale 6, Hold 6, Exhale 6, Hold 6, Inhale 6…
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – Channel Clearing / Alternate-Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodhana (NAH-dee show-DAH-nuh) literally translates as “channel-clearing” but we frequently use a more descriptive translation of alternate-nostril breathing.
We recommend trying this breath technique during meditation! This is also a great calming technique for anxiety.
This technique is meant to clear the body’s energy channels, and I find it is super cleansing for the entire respiratory system – you may want to keep some tissues handy for this technique, and do not perform if you have a stuffy nose!
- Get in position – you will want to come into a comfortable seat. Place your left hand on your left knee. Bring your right hand into a Vishnu Mudra, folding your first two fingers to your palm (or if this is not comfortable, bring all three center fingers to the palm, or rest your index and middle fingers on your forehead/third eye)
- Use the right thumb to close the right nostril. Exhale and then inhale fully through your left nostril only, keeping your diaphragmatic breath technique, breathing into your belly.
- Move your right ring and pinky finger to close the left nostril. Exhale and then inhale fully through your right nostril only.
- Continue this alternate-nostril breathing for 3-5 minutes. Remember, exhale and inhale, then switch sides.
This technique can be quite confusing – you may want to follow along our recommended video this first time!
Bhastrika Pranayama – Bellows Breath
This is a warming and energizing technique. You may have tried a variation of this at the very end of a Hot Yoga class. Please note this is a technique that should be practiced on its own, NOT during Asana practice! This Pranayama is best first thing in the morning, or if you need an energy boost during the day. Also, this technique is best on an empty stomach, or at least a couple hours after eating!
Start with Diaphragmatic Breathing to center.
- After 5-10 full Diaphragmatic Breaths, close your mouth and begin the Bellows Breath:
- Exhale forcefully through the nose, followed by inhaling forcefully through the nose.
- These are quick forceful breaths, about one second for each inhale and one second for each exhale.
- Use your diaphragm to initiate this breath, so your belly moves in and out quickly with your breath. Note that due to the speed, your breath will likely only reach your chest, not your belly.
- Keep head, neck, and shoulders still throughout this technique.
- Complete a round of 10 Bellows Breaths.
- Move back to Diaphragmatic Breathing for 5-10 complete breaths. If you are getting dizzy, just stick with one round.
- Complete a second round of 20 Bellows Breaths.
- Move back to Diaphragmatic Breathing for 10 complete breaths.
- Complete a third round of 30 Bellows Breaths.
- Do not practice more than 3 rounds or 60 total Bellows Breaths at a time.
Simhasana Pranayama – Lion’s Breath
This is a technique frequently used by my favorite Yoga Instructor in Atlanta (I miss you Olivia! You rock!). She would usually end her classes with this, and the entire room would erupt in laughter. This is a great Pranayama to try first thing in the morning, with children, or whenever you need a little stress relief.
This is a Pranayama that should be performed in a particular Asana pose, not just a normal seated position.
Start in a kneeling position (Virasana – Hero’s pose), or in a seated position with legs crossed if more comfortable. Press your palms into your knees, and straighten your arms to open your chest. This is Simhasana, or Lion’s Pose.
Start with Diaphragmatic Breathing for 3 full inhales and exhales to get your deep breathing going. Keep your eyes closed during this time.
Now we’ll start our Lion’s Breath! Make sure your eyes are closed, and do another full inhale through your nose.
On your exhale, open your eyes and mouth, and stick your tongue out as far as possible as you contract your throat to slightly say “HA” on the exhale. I always feel like I am channeling a Chinese Guardian Lion Statue!
After exhaling completely with your lion face, close your eyes and mouth for another calm inhale. Repeat this exhale for 3-10 eyes open, tongue out Lion’s Breaths.
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One thought on “Daily Yogi’s Guide to Pranayama (Breathing)”
Cool! It took me literally years to realize how important breath was for physical yoga practice… holding a comfortable spot and deep breathing does a lot more opening than pushing yourself. It seems counterintuitive but it’s totally true.
The breath retention you are talking about is a technique called Kumbhaka Pranayama. We will definitely talk about that one a bit later too 🙂
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