The art of inhaling and exhaling is an essential practice in yoga. Pranayama or controlling the vital life energies [prana] through breath, enables us to be in the present moment, clear our minds and increase focus, as well as create a sense of calm.
Deep breaths, from the abdomen, increase respiration and oxygen. While shallow breaths, from the chest, send a stress signal to the brain. Knowing your breath is an essential practice.
An easy way to start the practice of knowing your breath is to acknowledge when you are inhaling and exhaling. Simply say to yourself when you’re breathing in, “I am inhaling” and when you’re breathing out, “I am exhaling” to train yourself to know what breathing in feels like, and what breathing out feels like.
From there you can start to count your breath. Notice how many counts to inhale and how many to exhale, without trying to manipulate your breath. Once you know what a “normal” breath is for you, you can then transition into pranayama practices. In the beginning it can be helpful to practice with an instructor, so they can guide you as well as answer any questions you may have. Here are a few examples of pranayama practices you may encounter, or can ask your instructor to guide you through:
Bhramari: Humming Bee breath
-normal inhale, buzz/hum as you exhale
-helps to calm a “buzzing” mind
Ujjayi: Victorious breath
-as you inhale and exhale, make a snore like sound in the back of your throat
-clear demonstration of how our breath connects to our emotions
Nadi Shodan: Alternate Nostril breathing
-inhale and exhale alternately through the left and right nostril in a specific pattern
-calms and centers the mind by bringing both hemispheres of the brain into harmony
Here are a couple more advanced or rigorous pranayama practices:
Kapalbhati: Skull Shining breath
-inhale passively and exhale forcefully
-detoxifies the body and clears energy channels
Bhastrika: Bellows breath
-inhale and exhale vigorously
-increases energy and calms mind