Breath control is a part of yoga, but it can be widely overlooked by beginners. A key aspect of the calming effect of yoga is coordinating breath with movement. Without this component, yoga loses its true power. According to yoga tradition, breath carries your life force. In order to connect to your life force, you must master the art of breathing.
We often take the very act of breathing for granted. It happens automatically without our conscious interference, and it can indicate how we are feeling inside. Steady, flowing breath indicates calmness and a lower heart rate. Quick, shallow breaths are a sign of anxiety, fear, and a fast heart rate. Yoga can teach you how to take back your breath and control your inner turbulence through techniques and practices handed down through ancient wisdom.
The benefits of pranayama are numerous. Remember when you were young and you would get upset your parents or teacher would tell you to take a deep breath and count to 10? Pranayama is basically that, but for adults and with much deeper spiritual meaning and effects. Among its primary benefits are stress relief, lower blood pressure, and reduction of oxidative stress on the body.
Below are a few beginner pranayama breathing techniques you can try to get a feel for what the practice is all about. A few of these should not be performed if you have high blood pressure. It’s best to do any pranayama while sitting cross-legged with a straight spine.
This is a simple beginner’s exercise that is great for relieving anxiety and quieting a chatty mind. Inhale through your nostrils. To exhale, keep your lips tightly sealed and make an “M” sound. With your lips together this will sound like a hum. Repeat this inhale/exhale until you feel calm.
Warm up your breath by breathing deeply through your nose. Let each inhale fully expand your belly. To “start the bellows,” breathe in fully and exhale forcefully through your nose, immediately inhaling just as forcefully and so on at a rate of 1 second per inhale/exhale. Breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest. Otherwise, your breathing will be too shallow and you may get lightheaded.
Inhale normally and exhale completely. Next, bend your head down and inhale for as long as you can, making a soft hissing sound in your throat as you inhale. Hold this breath for 2-5 seconds, then block the right nostril with the right thumb and breathe out through your left nostril. Repeat at least 10 times.
Start by curling your right pinky and ring finger into your palm. Keep your thumb, index, and middle finger out. Bring your hand up to your face and close your right nostril with your thumb, then breathe in through the left nostril. Hold this breath by closing your index and middle fingers over your left nostril while keeping your thumb on your right nostril. Count to 16, then move your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale on the right side, close both nostrils, and then exhale on the left. Repeat this practice of switching sides a few times.
Get used to these breathing exercises before you move onto more advanced ones like Skull Shining. You’ll find that the more you learn to control your breath, the easier it will be to control your mind and deepen your yoga practice.