One of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Pranayama, or Breathing Techniques. These techniques are used to regulate our life force. They are commonly practiced before a Yoga Asana practice. I will break down 2 of the 6 main Pranayama practices in this article.
Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing is the most natural way of breathing. Every human being starts breathing this way as a baby, and as we grow, we learn to bring the breath higher into the chest. This breathing technique takes practice to get back into as an adult. Once mastered, this technique will come much more naturally and is the most efficient type of breathing. When practiced correctly, the diaphragm moves downward on an inhale, pushing the abdominal contents down, and during exhalation it relaxes and moves upward. It allows us to gain control over the breath, correct poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake which will greatly improve our state of physical and mental well-being. It also helps to regulate and balance the nervous system, heart and blood flow, muscular and hormonal activity, stress levels, the immune system, and it helps to provide fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients to the whole body.
To practice this breathing technique, lay on your back in Savasana. Place your right hand on your belly and left hand on your chest. Close your eyes and imagine that each inhale swirls down into your right hand. Once you get the breath into your right hand, imagine it swirling down into your pelvic floor. Continue to practice this until it becomes natural and you can breathe into your pelvic floor without your hand on your belly.
Also known as victorious or ocean breath, Ujjayi breath is formed from the words bondage and conquer, meaning that the practice gives us freedom from bondage. The technique is produced by a light contraction at the pit of the throat around the glottis and creates a light, whispery, hissing sound. For generations this breathing technique has been used by Yogis to support and promote health as well as expand conscious awareness as it brings breath and body into a solid, soothing rhythm. This produces heat and filters air. It aids with ailments and irritations in the throat, lowers blood pressure, soothes the nervous system, calms the mind, and has a profound relaxing effect at the psychic level.
NOTE: DO NOT practice UJJAYI breath if you are very introverted or suffering from heart disease.
For the rest of us, to practice Ujjayi breath, close your mouth and breath through your nose. You may need to blow your nose before practicing this Pranayama. From here, contract your throat muscles, which will create a smaller hole in your throat. This will cause the air to flow with the hissing or humming sounds, which sounds like the ocean. If practiced correctly, your abdomen will expand and contract with your breath. Each breath should be long, deep, and controlled with the focus on the sound of the breath. This Pranayama is used throughout our entire Ashtanga or Vinyasa practice.
Stay tuned next week to learn more about the next two Pranayama practices.