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yoga breathing

Breathing exercise in yoga is integral to the practice. In a yoga class, many of the instructions are around breathing – becoming conscious of the breath, breathing from the belly, connecting with the breath, breathing deeply and fully, retaining the breath, moving with the breath, et al. 

Breathing exists as a standalone practice in the form of breathing exercises or pranayama. It serves a purpose in yoga poses by aligning movement with breath. It plays a role in meditation and relaxation by keeping one’s focus on the breath. 

In this article, we’ll talk a bit about the role of breath in yoga and 4 yoga exercises that will help you become your healthiest and happiest self. 

The Role of Breathing Exercise in Yoga

Factors like stress, trauma, posture, injury, or illness can affect the way we breathe. Rather than breathing into our entire body, we often only breathe into the upper chest, the lower belly, or the front body. A full breath, on the other hand, engages the abdomen, chest, rib cage, sides, and back

While practicing yoga, the breath needs to be maintained throughout, whether one is in a challenging pose or sitting still. The breath is supposed to be even, controlled, and calm. Thus, yoga requires a practitioner to be mindful of the breath at all times. 

If you are looking for tips on how to start and build a yogic breathing practice, this is a very helpful article. 

Here are some ways in which breathing exercises help us in our yoga practice and our lives: 

Enables being present 

The significance of the present moment cannot be overemphasized. Breathing consciously, observing the breath, and listening to its rise and fall allows us to stay present with our physical, mental, and emotional states. 

Conscious breathing requires that we let go of memories of the past and fears of the future. It needs us to focus only on the moment that’s with the breath – to be fully present in the here and now. 

The present moment is the essence of yoga. It is only through mindfulness that the subtle energy that resides within can be tapped. The breath also helps us to navigate the different levels of consciousness and connect to the moment that is deep inside. 

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Place a hand on your abdomen and you will easily notice the depth of your breath.

Soothes emotions and improves circulation

Breathing fully helps to ‘send’ the breath to different parts of the body and hence, there is a better movement of energy through the body. It helps improve the functioning of the digestive and circulatory systems and regulates the functioning of the nervous and cardiovascular systems. 

Breathing has a direct impact on one’s state of mind. By slowing down the breath, it becomes possible to relax parts of the brain that deal with emotions. As a result, there is a soothing effect on how one is feeling. 

One of the definitions of yoga in ancient texts is that it helps stop the fluctuations of the mind. Controlling the breath enables becoming aware of and, therefore, quieting the emotions that disturb and create dis-ease. In that respect, the breath plays a very important role in meeting this objective of yoga. 

Breathing exercise in yoga prevents injury 

Most movement in yoga is aligned with the breath. By connecting breath with movement, the mind begins to move in sync with the body. There is a much greater awareness that develops towards the cues from the body.

Yogic breathing also helps to increase the flow of oxygenated blood to the muscles. By breathing fully, muscles release accumulated tension and loosen up. Thus, injuries that can otherwise occur in a yoga practice can be prevented because of the retraining and relaxing of the muscles. 

Increase flexibility with breathing exercise in yoga

Practicing yoga poses without integrating them with the breath is not a complete practice and hence, does not yield its potential benefits fully. It is through breathing that the flow of energy happens in the body. It is also through breathing that the body finds relaxation. 

The breath opens up the body, loosens the parts that are stiff, and helps release stored pain and tension. Thus, breathing exercises in yoga help with finding flexibility in the body. They also help balance the body by increasing circulation, regulating hormones, regenerating the organs, and pacifying the nervous system. They increase the body’s natural capacity to rejuvenate and recover. 

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Breathing right in yoga can help you prevent injuries.

Deepens yoga poses 

Breathing consciously with slower, deeper breaths helps to relax the body. As we breathe into the areas of the body where there is tension, it helps to relax those muscles and ease us into the posture. By actively and consciously relaxing the body, the breath helps to reduce any strain, eliminate pain, and deepen the pose. 

Awareness of the breath leads to relaxation of the body, which creates progress in yoga poses

Movement is synced with breath in a way that inhalation accompanies movements in which the body opens out and expands. While breathing in, there is more energy. So poses where movement is initiated usually happen on an inhalation. Engaging and contracting of muscles are also done on an inhale. 

Exhalation accompanies movements in which the body folds in on itself. These are movements when there is stretching, lengthening, or relaxing. 

4 Breathing Exercises in Yoga to Build into Your Practice 

We bring you breathing exercises in yoga from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatmarama and one of the most influential texts on classical yoga. As B. K. S. Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world has said, “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days, but by the number of his breaths.”

Here are our favorite 4:

1. Sitkari Pranayama 

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Sitkari pranayama is a cooling practice. Whether it’s the weather that is hot, you are experiencing hot flashes or feeling angry, Sitkari has a soothing effect. It is also known to balance the endocrine system and build vitality. 

Since Sitkari is a cooling breathing exercise, it reduces body temperature. Therefore, it is advised to avoid this practice in cold weather. 

How to practice Sitkari Pranayama 

  • Sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet placed firmly on the ground. Close your eyes. Start focusing on your breath. 
  • Bring your upper and lower teeth together and part your lips so your teeth are exposed to the air. 
  • Take a breath in through the gaps in your teeth.
  • Keep your focus on the hissing sound that this creates. 
  • To exhale, close your mouth and let the breath out through the nose. 
  • You can repeat this cycle up to 20 times. 
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Sitkari is a great breathing exercise for women suffering from hot flashes.

2. Bhramari Pranayama 

Bhramari is a Hindu goddess known as the ‘Goddess of Bees’. This breathing exercise in yoga is true to its name – it involves making the buzzing sound of a honeybee. 

This pranayama has immense benefits. It is calming for the mind, relieves anxiety and symptoms of depression and is known to be therapeutic for those with thyroid issues.

How to practice Bhramari Pranayama 

  • Sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet placed firmly on the ground. Close your eyes. Start focusing on your breath. 
  • When you feel ready, take a deep breath in, and while you exhale, make a humming sound in your throat. 
  • The mouth is closed, facial muscles relaxed, and teeth slightly parted. 
  • You can repeat this cycle up to 6 rounds, prolonging your exhalation and the humming sound for as long as it feels comfortable. 
  • Notice how you feel. 

Check the below video to better understand what sound you have to make with your throat.

You don’t have to place your fingers in your ears if you don’t feel like it.

3. Bhastrika Pranayama 

The Sanskrit word Bhastrika means bellows; Bhastrika pranayama is, therefore, bellows breathing. Just like the action of a bellows, this breathing exercise in yoga generates heat in the body. It also strengthens and tones the organs of the digestive system. 

This is an active and vigorous practice. Make sure you are not forcing the breath beyond capacity. Start slow and small. With time, you’ll be able to increase your stamina.

Practice on an empty stomach. Avoid if you are menstruating or pregnant. Also avoid if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, or fever. 

How to practice Bhastrika Pranayama 

  • Sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet placed firmly on the ground. Make sure your spine is straight. Close your eyes and start focusing on your breath. 
  • Start with a deep breath in and breathe out with force from the nose. Make sure you do not strain. 
  • Without pausing, breathe in through the nose with the same force. 
  • The belly expands on inhalation while the diaphragm contracts. The reverse happens on exhalation. 
  • Repeat for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation. You can practice for up to 3 rounds of 10 cycles each. 

4. Ujjayi Pranayama 

Ujjayi breathing translates as ‘the victorious breath’. Yogic texts say that Ujjayi can liberate one from any bondage. It is the most commonly used breathing technique in asana practice. 

The benefits of this breathing exercise in yoga include an increase in appetite, balancing of the thyroid gland, and improvement in quality of voice. 

How to practice Ujjayi Pranayama 

  • Sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet placed firmly on the ground. Make sure your spine is straight. Close your eyes and start focusing on your breath. 
  • With the mouth closed, gently constrict the throat. 
  • After a short exhalation, inhale slowly and evenly. As the air passes through the constriction in the throat, a sound will be created from the friction. 
  • Make sure both the exhalation and the inhalation happen through this constriction.
  • Breathe from your abdomen with no gaps between inhalations and exhalations. 
  • You can start with 5 rounds and increase gradually. 

Conclusion 

The role of the breath is inseparable from yoga. Breath that is smooth, steady, and even is the anchor of a yoga practice and can lead us to our natural state of health and well-being. 

Breathing exercises in yoga can help us become our best selves in every possible way. Start now and enjoy its many blessings. You will become a real yogi. 

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living has this to say about what Prana and Pranayama are. I hope you find it interesting 😊

BINDU

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Nidhi @thebigbindu is a practicing yoga therapist and an advanced yoga teacher. Her writing is inspired by her experience of yoga and her study of Ayurveda, Yoga philosophy, and Yoga psychology.