Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Breathing is the single most important thing you do every day. Conscious breathing can change your whole life.
We humans have a tendency to think that transformation requires a big investment in time, energy or money. We scour google looking for the 'next thing' that will keep us fit, healthy, beautiful or just to reassure us that we're OK.
Transformation can happen in a single insight that gives us the perspective we need to change our behaviours; however, for most people it is the result of tiny incremental changes that are made consistently each day.
The most impactful change you can make today at zero cost is to change how you breathe. Breathing is so automatic we barely register its existence; yet it can be used to boost your immune system, improve your vitality and reduce stress and anxiety.
These five breathing techniques are the easiest to master by complete beginners and they can be used to warm you up, calm you down, cool the body or bring you to balance. Yogis have been using them for centuries to master the subtle body; and practitioners should not underestimate the impact these practices can have. With the rise in breathwork generally, there can be a tendency to over do things or approach such practices without adequate consideration for the techniques and their intended context.
With that in mind, it's important to start from a place of beginner's mind and to let go of expectation. The practices work; but they require a willingness for you to practice gently and in tune with your own body. Approach pranayama with care and respect, starting slowly as you build up your nervous system and pay attention to any discomfort which is a sign that you should slow down.
If in doubt, consult a qualified breathwork practitioner.
Yogis will be familiar with Ujjayi a foundational pranayama technique while performing the asana. Ujjayi is more than this.
This pranayama is deeply tranquilizing, mildly heating, balancing for all three doshas when used in moderation; and it is appropriate for most anyone to practice. Over-use can aggravate pitta and vata.
Slows the pace of the breath, slowing the motion of the mind
Cleanses and refreshes the nadis (subtle channels of the body)
Infuses the mind-body with fresh prana (vital life force)
Promotes mental clarity and focus
Bolsters the immune system
Soothes and rejuvenates the nervous system
Promotes better sleep
Supports proper fluid balance in the body's tissues
Fosters a profound sense of calm and relaxation in the mind and body
Cleanses the emotional body by releasing stagnant emotions held in the tissues which is amplified when practiced with asana.
Before You Begin
Ujjayi pranayama requires you to slightly constrict the back of the throat. If you have never practiced this technique before, the following video will help you to constrict the throat and practice Ujjayi correctly.
How to Practice
Ujjayi pranayama is best done as a focused practice and an empty stomach helps. You can practice Ujjayi breath while sitting, lying, or standing. Ujjayi pranayama can be practiced for any length of time; bearing in mind its impact on Pitta and Vata. Twelve cycles on a regular basis offers immense benefits. Practicing daily for ten to twenty minutes as part of a regular pranayama session can be truly transformative.
There are different versions of Ujjayi that incorporate retentions and locks; however, these should be practiced with supervision from a qualified instructor.
Surya Bhedana - Solar Breath or Right Nostril Breath
Surya Bhedana is a warming pranayama technique that stokes our inner fires. For this reason it helps to pacify Kapha and increases Pitta but is neutral for vata.
Our right nostril is energetically associated with our body's heating energy, and this is symbolised by the "Sun", our left nostril is associated with our body's cooling energy, and this is symbolised by the "Moon".
Surya Bhedana is said to stimulate the brain and increase body heat
The digestive fire is increased by this pranayama
It destroys all diseases that are caused by the insufficiency of oxygen in the blood.
Surya Bhide Pranayama has also effects on shooting ability in Basketball players. (study)
The Gheranda Samhita says that Surya Bhedan Pranayama destroys decay and death, awakens Kundalini Shakti and increases digestive fire.
The Hatha Yoga Pradeepika says that Surya Bheda Pranayama cleans the frontal sinuses, destroys disorders of Vata and destroys intestinal worms.
It helps alleviate dullness, lethargy, and depression.*
Brings fresh energy to the body so one can perform physical activities more efficiently.
Useful in treating low blood pressure and infertility in women.*
It increases body temperature, thus removing the Kapha (mucus) imbalance. This is very effective in obesity. Regular practice of right nostril breath is helpful in weight loss.*
Surya Bhedana should not be practiced if you are suffering from any kind of fever as it increases the heat your body. If you currently have diarrhea, please also avoid this pranayama technique.
How to Practice
Surya Bhedana pranayama is best done 4-5 hours after eating. Start by making the Vishnu Mudra, folding down your first and second fingers on your right hand. Close your left nostril with your little and ring finger.
Now inhale deeply and slowly without making any noise. After completing the inhalation close your right nostril with your thumb. Use Kumbhaka to hold the breath and drop the head forward into Jalandhara Bandha. Lift the head, open the left nostril and exhale.
You can repeat this pose in the same manner 3 to 5 times using this suggested ratio:
A ratio of Inhale, Hold and Exhale is 1:4:2. The ratio 1:4:2 is mentioned in most classic.
inhale = x sec
exhale = 2inhale = 2x sec
hold = 2exhale = 4x sec
hold = 2exhale = 4x sec
For beginners, keep the ratio: 1:1:1 where 1 = 4 seconds.
Nadi Shodhana - Alternate Nostril Breathing
Nadi Shodhanana, is a powerful pranayama technique with wide reaching benefits.
Nadi = “channel” or “flow”
shodhana = “purification.”
So, nadi shodhana is for clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind and body, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects through the Ida and Pingala. It is pacifying for all three doshas and is a suitable practice for most people. Nadi Shodhana is a powerful practice to start before any other pranayama technique.
Infuses the body with oxygen when practiced as a full yogic breath
Reduces stress and anxiety
Calms and rejuvenates the nervous system
Clears and releases toxins from the system
Brings balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain
Balances solar and lunar, masculine and feminine energies
Helps to balance hormones
Promotes mental clarity and an alert mind
Helps to alleviate respiratory allergies that cause hay fever, sneezing, or wheezing
A study suggest 20 minutes practice of anulom vilom pranayama increased GSR, which denotes parasympathetic activity.
A study suggest daily practise of anulom vilom pranayama show positive effect on digestive power , mental freshness.
How to Practice
Nadi Shodhana is a very simple practice as demonstrated in the video below. Begin by making Vishnu Mudra with your right hand by placing the tip of index and middle finger on the root of your thumb.
Next, check which of your nostrils is active, and if you are breathing from the left nostril, close your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand. Inhale deeply through the left nostril. After completing the inhalation close the left nostril with the little and the ring finger and hold the breath momentarily before opening the right nostril to exhale from the right side.
After exhaling from the right, continue with inhalation from the right nostril. Then close the right nostril with the thumb, open your left nostril again and exhale. You have now completed one round of Nadi Shodhana. Repeat this pranayama exercise 5 to 10 times.
Pregnant women and the ones suffering from diabetes and blood pressure should not hold their breath while practicing Nadi Shodhana.
Bhastrika - Bellows Breath / Breath of Fire
Bhastrika Pranayama is another technique that stokes the inner fire of the mind and body. It is an aggressive technique that is very useful for clearing the nadis, thus working on the physical and the subtle bodies.
bhastrika = “bellows”
It is great for energizing the body and the mind
Good for people with depression and anxiety
It helps in treating fibrosis
Helps strengthen immunity
Benefits sleep apnea as well
When done regularly removes blockages from the nose and chest
Removes inflammation of the throat
Generates heat in the body and can warm you in rainy or cold weather
It is good for brain oxygenation
It benefits the nervous and the motor system
The heating effect of this technique means it increases Pitta and can aggravate Vata, so it is best for Kapha dosha. Bhastrika is not suitable in these cases:
people with high blood pressure,
people with poor lung capacity,
pregnant or menstruating women,
recent abdominal surgery,
anyone at risk for stroke, and
people suffering from hernia.
Start by sitting in a steady, comfortable posture with the spine straight. Take a full yogic breath, letting the abdomen expand as you inhale. When you’re ready to begin, exhale by contracting the abdominal muscles quickly and forcefully and follow it with a quick diaphragmatic inhalation, letting the abdominal muscles relax completely; and letting the air fill your lungs without force as demonstrated in the video below.
The challenge is to coordinate the action of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles so the air moves in and out of the lungs quickly. Both the exhalation and inhalation will be audible, and the goal is to make them equal in both duration and force.
Bhramari Pranayama - Bumble Bee Breath
Bhramari Pranayama is a calming practice that soothes the nervous system and is good for cooling the body and insomnia.
Bhramari = “bee,”
The technique got its name because of the humming sound produced at the back of the throat during the practice. Because Bhramari is a cooling breath it pacifies Pitta but can aggravate Vata and Kapha doshas.
Calms and quiets the mind to support relaxation
Releases cerebral tension
Stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands, supporting their proper functioning
Improves an strengthens the voice
Lowers blood pressure
Supports the healing of bodily tissues
Induces sound sleep
Do not practice Bhramari in the following circumstances:
pregnant or menstruating women,
extremely high blood pressure,
chest pain, or an active ear infection.
To get started, sit comfortably and allow your eyes to close. Use the placement of your thumbs to close your ears, place your pinky fingers at the base of your nose, place your two middle fingers gently over your eyes and your first finger just above the eye brows.
Take a deep breath or two to settle your focus and take note of the state of your mind.
You'll need to keep your lips closed, keeping the teeth slightly apart. Place the tip of your tongue at the space behind the upper front teeth. When you’re ready, inhale deeply into the belly, drop your head forward to your chest and for the entire length of your exhale, make a low to medium pitched humming sound in the throat (like a bee).
Notice how the sound waves gently vibrate your tongue, teeth, and sinuses. When starting out, begin with seven rounds. You may either continue with seven rounds, or you might want to add one round each week, building up to a total of seventeen rounds.
These five breathing techniques are powerful individual practices. When used as a protocol to address specific underlying health issues under the direction of a trained instructor, they can be used to make lasting changes in health and wellbeing. Used correctly on their own, they can support an immediate change in state to suit individual circumstances.
Tim is a certified RYS200 hours Yoga Teacher. He certified as an Advanced Breathwork Instructor and currently studies Ayurveda with Yoga Veda Institute.
When combined with his experience as a life and leadership coach, Tim can help people make dramatic changes in thier overall wellbeing.
To learn more, book a call with Tim at http://book.timsnell.co