The benefits of pranayama breathing

The breathing techniques used within yoga is called Pranayama. “Prana” refers to the universal life force and “ayama” means extension. Pranayama is the extension or control of breath or Prana, or in short breath control.

This blog post will cover how to practice Pranayama, the general benefits of a regular practice, as well as some common techniques and their specific benefits.

The general benefits of practicing Pranayama

Practicing Pranayama on a regular basis promotes harmony between the body, mind, and spirit and brings a range of mental, emotional and physical benefits. Pranayama strengthens the respiratory organs and stimulates the parasympathetic system which helps to offset the stress response. It has also proven to have a positive effect on blood pressure and heart rate.

How we breathe is also closely linked to our emotions. Our emotions impact our breath and we breathe differently if we are angry or nervous than if we are relaxed and calm. And it works the other way around. We can use our breath to change our emotional state and to either calm or energize ourselves.

Prepare for Pranayama

Most types of Pranayama are practiced in a seated position with an upright spine. You can, for example, sit in a cross-legged pose, Hero’s or Lotus Pose. The breath should be gentle and even at all time during the exercise.

Always take a few smooth breaths before and after the exercises. As with all new practices, you should start gentle and expand over time. In the beginning, 30 seconds per exercise suffice and when you have prepared your body you can build to longer increments of time. Should you get dizzy, stop and relax for a while until your breath has evened out.

Approach the practice Pranayama cautiously, especially if you are doing it on your own without the direct guidance of an experienced teacher

Three Part Breathing (Dirga Pranayama)

Many use this technique at the beginning of a yoga practice to settle in and prepare for the practice. It is also often the first method that new yoga practitioners learn. The technique can be used as a daily practice as it doesn’t require any preparation, specific sound or position.

The “three parts” are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. When practicing Three Part Breathing you’ll learn to breathe fully and completely.

How to do the exercise:

Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your navel. Breathe into your chest, your upper abdomen, and finally, fill your belly as if it is a balloon. Then slowly exhale gently releasing the air from your belly, your upper abdomen, and your chest

Some benefits of the exercise:

  • Increases the oxygen supply
  • Decreases stress and anxiety levels
  • Calms the mind
  • Helps to mitigate insomnia

Bee Breathe (Bhramari Pranayama)

Brahmari Pranayama produces a buzzing sound, like the humming of a bee. It has a soothing effect on the brain and can be used as a daily practice to promote relaxation. It can also be used on-the spot to deal with anger or irritation that arises in our daily interaction with people around us.

How to do the exercise:

Sit up tall and breathe slowly and deeply. Make a soft humming noise, like the sound if the letter M, with every exhale. Imagine that your entire body is producing the sound. Repeat 5 times or as long as it feels good!

Some benefits of the exercise:

  • Promotes a melodious and soft tone
  • Prevents and cures throat diseases
  • Calms the nerves and reduces tension, anger, and anxiety
  • Helps to reduce blood pressure

Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati Pranayama)

This is an exercise that warms up the abdominal muscles and is great for detoxing the body and clearing the energy channels. There is a variant called Skull Shining Breath as it leaves a tingling sensation in the head after the practice.

How to do the exercise:

Sit up tall and breathe in and out through your nose. Pull in your belly while exhaling and press it out while inhaling. Imagine that you fill your belly with air while inhaling and use your abdominal muscles to push the air out while exhaling. Start to speed up the breath and find a balanced rhythm. The breathing should be loud and quick. Keep even length and strength of inhales and exhales. Start with a few rounds and work up to a few minutes of Fire Breathing over time.

Some benefits of the exercise:

  • Removes toxins from the body
  • Expands the lung capacity and strengthens the nervous system to resist stress
  • Strengthens the muscles in the abdomen and around the solar plexus
  • Improves blood circulation

Victory Breathe (Ujjayi Pranayama)

Victory Breathe warms the body and the breath before it comes into the lungs. This is the Pranayama used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa and is the most used breathing technique. It is useful for calming the mind and the nervous system in tricky situations both on and off the mat. It sounds like the ocean and can cool you off very quickly.

How to do the exercise:

Breathe through your nose with long and deep inhalations and exhalations. Drag the breath along the back of your throat while slightly contracting the muscles of your throat so that the air passage becomes narrower. This makes the breath thin and long and it creates a gentle hissing sound. Try to make each inhale last as long as exhale while keeping the length and depth of your breathing.

Some benefits of the exercise:

  • Increases the internal body heat
  • Calms the brain and promotes mental clarity and focus
  • Enhances the respiratory systems
  • Soothes the nervous system

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodan Pranayama)

This exercise calms and centers the mind by bringing balance between the left and right brain. It can be used as a preparation for Pranayama or as a standalone exercise. Many people use it before bed to calm the mind or when they need to stay focused and disciplined.

How to do the exercise:

Sit up tall and take a few long breaths through your nose. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril. Then close your left nostril with your ring fingers and exhale slowly through the right nostril. Now leave your hand as it is and inhale through the right nostril. Then switch and close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left nostril. Repeat 3-5 times.

Some benefits of the exercise:

  • Calms and centers the mind
  • Lowers heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety
  • Synchronizes the left and the right brain hemispheres
  • Stimulates Circulation