Breathing is an incredibly important part of yoga practice, and indeed our lives. Bizarrely, while breathing might sound like a really innocuous and mundane part of life, many people may be unaware of the right way to practice their breathing correctly.
When it comes to your practice regimen, there’s a few different types of breathing exercises that you could try which can help you out. Not only will they improve your yoga sessions, but you might find that they improve your overall wellbeing.
So what are these yoga breathing exercises? Well, we’ve explained them in this handy guide. We’ll look at what you can do, how you can do it and why!
Read on for much more!
The 5 Breathing Exercises
Without any more delays, let’s dive right into these breathing exercises. While this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the best forms of breathing exercises out there (for our favorite books on breathing and breathwork, read here). Be sure to practice these and keep them in mind next time you are performing your yoga exercises!
1. Breathwork Awareness
The easiest and most basic exercise for breathing when it comes to yoga is the breathwork awareness exercise. This exercise allows you to see exactly where you are in terms of your breathing knowledge, and you can note down the speed, intensity and normality of it.
To do this exercise, you merely need to breathe through your nose normally and then pay attention to some of the main points. For example, you will be asking yourself the following questions:
- How fast am I breathing? Is it shallow?
- Is anything speeding up my breathing?
- Is inhalation or exhalation faster?
- How is this making me feel?
- Am I feeling anxious while doing this?
The key to this exercise is to make sure that you are not manipulating your breathing. You are simply looking to be aware of your breathing and this will better prepare you for other breathing techniques, and understanding your own physical and mental health.
2. Ocean Breath/Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
This is a traditional form of pranayama and it has been famed for its focus on soft breathing which has soothing sounds and feelings, similar to that of the sound of ocean waves while you’re sitting alone at the beach, or near some other form of water.
It’s unclear exactly why this this exercise evokes feelings of these images, but Dr. Patricia Gerbarg’s book “The Healing Power Of The Breath” suggests that it may be down to the larynx.
She explains that the vibrations in the larynx could be stimulating the sensory receptors which command the vagus nerve to emit a calming or soothing effect. Indeed, she does explain that this is simply a theory, but there’s plenty of justification for it.
To perform this exercise, all you need to do is start your yoga practice as normal, but as you are inhaling during your session, breathe in through the nose and exhale through your mouth sounding out an “ahh” as you do so.
Continue to do this several times, and pay attention to your feelings and how your yoga is going when you repeat it.
3. Alternating Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)
As the name suggests, this breathing exercise involves alternating between one nostril to the other as you inhale and exhale. The idea behind this practice is that you should be able to purify and clear the nadis.
This is a yogic philosophy that suggests that energy passages which carry our life force throughout our body and mind are located within us, such as the nadis. Now, while there is little scientific evidence or research into this, there is some for this breathing practice.
A study in 2008 suggested that alternate nostril breathing has a direct influence on blood pressure in various ways, but one subject was noted for having lower blood pressure. So, this exercise could have the potential to help those with high blood pressure.
To perform this exercise, you need to get yourself into a comfortable seated position and then make a fist. Place this fist in front of your nose and then extend your thumb, pinky finger and ring finger.
Use your thumb to cover the right nostril and then breathe. Then, close your left nostril with your ring finger, whilst opening the other nostril and breathe. You need to continue alternating this and repeat around three or four times.
4. Breathing Retention (Kumbhaka Pranayama)
This type of breathing exercise is more about holding in your breath rather than inhaling and exhaling over and over again. The rationale behind this breathing exercise is that, once you fully expand your lungs – your air capacity is at its highest.
Therefore, if you practice increasing the pressure on your lungs, you should be able to increase the overall air capacity of your lungs – meaning further potential for more oxygen. This also means more blood to the heart and more oxygenated muscles.
To perform this breathing exercise, do this after asana and then prepare yourself for meditation. Inhale as much as possible to retain all the air and get your lungs at their maximum inflation.
Hold this for as long as you possibly can and then release in a slow, comfortable manner. It’s important to note here that people with heart conditions, brain conditions, breathing problems, pregnancy or extreme anxiety should avoid performing this exercise at all.
5. Skull-Shining Breath/Breath Of Fire (Kapalabhati Pranayama)
This final breathing exercise is an extremely different exercise from the others and it focuses on rapid breathing. It is said that this sort of breathing exercise is excellent for the nervous system.
Not only that, but it is also explained in this study that after performing kapalbhati, people noted beneficial rewards to their heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It was also noted for a connection between a person and their focus levels.
While this type of breathing exercise isn’t designed for everyone, it is useful for when you feel like you have a foggy mind and you feel a little directionless.
Indeed, if you are someone who has breathing problems or if you live with anxiety – then you should certainly try to avoid this breathing technique.
Benefits Of Breathing Exercises
In yoga, it is believed that your mind, body and breath are all connected. One way you can see this in action is when you’re experiencing times of stress. Your heart beats quickly, your blood pressure is raised and your breathing becomes rapid.
But, one of the most important things to remember is that if you control your mind, you can control your breathing. Indeed, it has been suggested that performing yoga while performing the right breathing exercises can be beneficial for these reasons:
- Can help with depression, stress and anxiety
- Reduces “brain fog”
- Helps with emotional regulation
- Can help to stabilize blood pressure
- Can improve your sleep
- May improve your strength
- May boost your immune system
Why It Matters
Many people, including those who perform yoga, have questioned in the past whether or not these breathing exercises even matter, or why there’s any point to them. The truth of the matter is that breathing exercises can actually help to shape your body.
Your diaphragm changes when you exhale and inhale – and this can have plenty of effects on the body when practiced regularly, but in particular when you are performing yoga. These exercises may shape your poses and other movements.
Therefore, if you are someone who is actively looking to change the way their body looks, perhaps to lose weight or because you have recently had a baby – then breathing exercises should be towards the top of your list of priorities!
Frequently Asked Questions
We will now cover some of your most frequently asked questions.
During hard moments, humans have a tendency to forget to breathe. Although it might sound like a really broken record, the reminder to breathe is incredibly important. The quality of breathing can improve the quality of your yoga experience!
Aside from when your instructor reminds you to or when you need to breathe, generally you should breathe when you’re performing backbends, mountain poses, spine lengthening poses and when you’re transitioning from pose to pose.
You’re always advised to speak with your doctor before you plan to do any different types of breathing exercises. However, generally it’s accepted that if you are pregnant, have a history of aneurysms, have anxiety, have vision problems or recent surgery – you should avoid it.
And that’s all you need to know about the best breathing exercises out there today! We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide and you’ve learned a lot more about breathing when it comes to yoga and your overall well being. Good luck!