Referred to in Sanskrit as Pranayamas, breathing exercises play an important part in any yoga practice. While each technique boasts its own positive effects, most of the exercises are designed to either energise or calm the body and mind. With this in mind, the exercises can be beneficial both on and off the mat. In this article, we explore yoga breathing exercises in more detail and discuss how to practice some of the most popular techniques. For best results, it’s important to take a few relaxed breaths before beginning each technique. Additionally, it’s sensible to wear breathable yoga clothes to allow your body to oxygenate sufficiently.
Seen as one of the most playful breathing exercises, Lions Breath is great to practice with children. The exercise is also popular amongst adults, often used as a way to wind down after a busy week.
To practice Lion’s Breath, take a deep breath inward before leaning your head back. Next, open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out. Finally, exhale loudly until all the air has been released from your lungs. For best results, repeat the process up to ten times or for as long as it feels comfortable. To enhance the relieving effects of the exercise, try practising with your arms raised above your head.
Often used in Bikram yoga classes, Breath of Fire is great for warming up the muscles. While the exercise is beneficial to yogis of all sorts, it is particularly popular amongst those looking to detoxify the body.
To practice Breath of Fire, sit tall and inhale gently through the nose. When you are ready to release the breath, exhale in small spurts while engaging the abdominal muscles. Each time you tense your stomach, release a small amount of breath. Continue the process until your lungs are empty. For best results, it’s important to ensure that your breaths are even in force and time.
Formally referred to as Kapalabhati Breathing, the Skull Cleanser is a cleansing breathing technique. Ideal for those suffering from fatigue, this breathing exercise helps to dramatically raise your energy level. The technique is similar to the Breath of Fire exercise, but with stronger exhales and both arms raised above your head. For best results, practice Skull Cleanser in a comfortable position and repeat the technique around 10 times, or as long as it feels comfortable to do so.
Ideal for those suffering from anxiety, stress, and even insomnia, Three Part Breathing is relaxing and restorative. Working to soothe the muscles and calm the mind, this breathing exercise is great to practice before you head off to bed.
To practice Three Part Breathing, place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. As you inhale, take the air into your chest, then your upper abdomen, and then finally into your stomach, puffing your belly out as you do so. When you are ready to exhale, slowly release the air in a similar fashion; exhale from your stomach first, then your upper abdomen, and then finally your chest.
Invigorating and refreshing, Bellows Breath is ideal to practice as part of your morning yoga session. This subtle exercise can be practised anywhere, making it ideal to use during a long day at the office.
To practice Bellows Breath, begin by clenching both hands into fists. Next, raise your arms above your head and inhale deeply. When you are ready to release the breath, lower your elbows to your sides and use the bottom of your diaphragm to make a “ha” sound. Making a loud sound when exhaling is great for releasing pent up frustration and energy from the body.
Often used alongside various asanas, Ujjayi Breathing is simple to practice. One of the most renowned yoga breathing exercises of all time, this exercise works to calm the mind and nervous system in times of stress. Better still, the technique is easy to practice anywhere.
Ujjayi Breathing involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose. To begin the exercise, take a deep breath inward; as you do so, drag the air along the back of your throat to create a soft hissing sound. This action should create a cooling sensation in the back of your throat, almost like you are drinking a cold drink. When you are ready to exhale, gently release the breath through your nose. For best results, try to make each of your breaths similar in length, depth, and force. Repeat the process for a few minutes, or until you begin to feel calm and relaxed.
A little more complicated in nature, Alternate Nostril Breathing is best to practice when you’ve got time to focus. As the exercise requires a higher level of concentration than some of the other techniques, it is ideal for those hoping to improve their focus and discipline levels. Working to calm and clear the mind, this exercise can be practised before bed to avoid overthinking.
To practice Alternate Nostril Breathing, place the middle and pointer fingers of your right hand into your right palm. This should leave your ring finger, little finger, and thumb free. Next, place your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale through your left. When you are ready to release the breath, remove your thumb and place your ring finger over your left nostril to exhale through the right. Leaving your hand in the same position, breath in through your right nostril and then switch to exhale through your left nostril. Repeat the process for a couple of minutes.
Whether you are hoping to energise your body before an important meeting, or more interested in winding down after a long day, the selection of breathing exercises above has something for everybody. When practising restorative techniques, it’s worth wearing comfortable yoga clothes; this will allow the body to relax on a deeper level than it can when wearing something restrictive.