Pointers on Practicing Pranayama Breathing, Plus Its Many Benefits
Taking a deep breath to calm down isn’t just good advice for wound-up kids. Conscious breathing — whether it’s done simply or by following the breathing techniques of pranayama — can bring a feeling of ease to anyone who is having a stressful day.
If you’ve never heard of this technique, don’t be intimidated! Pranayama breathing is very easy to learn. And it’s well worth your while to try it out, since there are many benefits of pranayama. Here are some helpful details about it, and how to get started.
What Is Pranayama?
The most basic pranayama definition is “the regulation of breathing.” It’s a combination of two Sanskrit words: prana meaning breath or life source, and yama meaning self-control. When done correctly, this breathing technique helps to calm, focus, and clarify the mind. In the “eight limbs of yoga” described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, pranayama is the fourth limb (or step) of yoga.
And pranayama is more specific than just taking a deep breath – it’s a concentrated effort that helps to control the flow of breath – and as as a result – the movement of energy in the body. Because of this, yoga instructors will cue postures and movements with inhales and exhales.
There are various techniques in pranayama to achieve the desired emotional benefit, such as boosting energy, sharpening focus, or experiencing deep relaxation.
Pranayama for Beginners: Breathing Techniques
There are a few ways to practice pranayama breathing. There isn’t one that’s necessarily better than another – it just depends on what technique allows you to connect with your breath the best. Here are two variations to get you started. For more breathing techniques, check out this article.
1. Ujjayi breathing
This type of breath work is a good introduction in pranayama, so it’s often mentioned in yoga classes.
To practice it, take a deep inhale through your nose. On your exhale, pretend like you’re trying to fog up a mirror while keeping your mouth closed. This should create a soft noise that sounds like a wave crashing. Listening to this subtle sound can help you mind focus on your breath.
2. Alternate-nostril breathing
For this variation of pranayama breathing, you use your fingers to close one nostril at a time to help concentrate the flow of your breath.
To start, place your left index and middle finger between your eyebrows. Let your thumb rest on your left nostril and very gently close it off. Breathe in through the right nostril and hold for a four counts. Move your thumb from your the left nostril to the right nostril to close off that side. Then exhale slowly. Keep your thumb there for the next inhale, then switch sides. Repeat, alternating between nostrils.
What Are the Benefits of Pranayama?
Not only does pranayama help you connect to your asana yoga practice, this breathing technique may also have a profound effect on your emotions. Don’t believe us? Try this: The next time you are stressed, take five deep, concentrated breaths and observe the shift in your emotions. Feeling a bit calmer? We thought so.
The effects may be more than just mental or emotional — there may be physical benefits, as well. Studies show that pranayama helps reduce key indicators of stress in the body and one study found that “even a single session of mental relaxation or slow breathing can result in a temporary fall in blood pressure.”
When Should You Do Pranayama?
What’s special about using breath work as a stress-reduction technique is that you can use it while doing other tasks and no one will know. To integrate the technique into your daily life, acknowledge your breath during the day and observe how it changes with your emotions. Maybe even jot down some notes. As you start to see patterns, you’ll be able to predict moments of stress and use it to instill calm and increase focus.
You can think of pranayama breathing as a short meditation or as moment of reflection that lasts only as long as the breath. If your breaths feel too short, try to lengthen your next breath, inhaling all the way to the bottom of your lungs.
To help you remember to take conscious breaths throughout the day, you can set reminders on your phone or stick a Post-It note in your workspace.