Breath is the bridge between the mind and body. In yoga, conscious breathing techniques known as pranayama are used to cultivate awareness, reduce stress and enhance vitality. Prana refers to the universal life force or energy that sustains all living beings. By controlling the breath, we gain control over this subtle energy and experience profound benefits for health, focus and relaxation. Here are some of the most common pranayama practices to incorporate into your yoga routine.
This ocean-like breath is the foundation of most yoga practices. Breathe through the nose with the mouth closed, contracting the throat slightly to make a soft “ha” sound on both inhalations and exhalations. This activates the diaphragm for deeper breathing and helps keep the mind engaged in the present moment.
This “breath of fire” energizes the body through rapid exhales from the nose. Sit comfortably and exhale forcefully while contracting the abdomen. Inhales happen automatically without effort. Do 1-2 minutes to stimulate the nervous system.
Similar to kapalabhati but with both inhales and exhales done forcefully through the nose. This dynamic breath builds inner heat and willpower. Do for just 30-60 seconds as it’s more intense.
Alternate nostril breathing balances the left and right brain hemispheres. Using your thumb and ring finger, inhale through one nostril and exhale from the other in a rhythmic cycle. Calms anxiety and quiets the mind.
This 3-part yogic breath expands the lungs fully. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold the breath at the top for 7 counts, exhale through the nose for 8 counts. Repeat slowly for stress relief.
Pranayama should feel smooth, not forced. Always start with 5 minutes and work up gradually as you build lung capacity. It’s best done in a comfortable seated position (on the floor or chair) with a straight spine. Focus on the breath flowing in and out in a balanced, relaxed manner. Over time, you’ll experience pranayama’s benefits like reduced stress, improved concentration and overall sense of ease.