The role of breathing
Breathing is essential for life. It helps to oxygenate the blood and tissues, and expels carbon dioxide from the body. Additionally, breathing can improve circulation, skin tone, and promote relaxation of musculature. Additionally, breathing can become an inner awareness tool, assisting in the activation of specific muscles in the lower lumbar spine and pelvis.
Breathing also affects the balance of the brain hemispheres, blood pH levels, lymphatic drainage, and immune system. Therefore, it is important to be aware of your breath and to practice deep breathing exercises regularly.
Breathing in yoga
Breathing is an important part of yoga. In fact, the word “yoga” means “union” or “connection.” And breath is one of the things that connect us to our practice—and to life itself.
When we breathe deeply, fully, and with awareness, we bring more oxygen into our lungs and bloodstream. This oxygenated blood then flows to our brain, which helps to improve concentration and focus. The deep breathing also massages our internal organs and helps to release toxins from our body.
There are many different yoga breathing techniques, or pranayama, that you can practice to help improve your overall health and well-being. Some of these include:
Ujjayi breath: This breathing technique is a type of ‘oceans breath’ and is often used in conjunction with asana, or physical yoga postures. To do Ujjayi breath, simply inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through your nose, keeping your throat slightly constricted so that you can hear your breath.
Bhastrika breath: Bhastrika breath is a type of “bellows” breath, where you breathe in and out rapidly and forcefully through your nose. This breathing technique is said to help increase energy and heat in the body.
Kapalabhati breath: Kapalabhati breath is another type of “bellows” breath, but it is done with only exhalations. Inhales are passive and occur naturally between exhales. This breathing technique is said to help cleanse the lungs and improve digestion.
Nadi shodhana breath: Nadi shodhana breath, also called “alternate nostril breathing,” is a calming breath that can help to ease anxiety and stress. To do this breath, simply close off your right nostril with your thumb and inhale deeply through your left nostril. Then, close off your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Continue alternating sides with each inhale and exhale.
Sitali breath: Sitali breath is a cooling breath that can help to soothe an agitated mind. To do this breath, curl the sides of your tongue up towards your palate and stick it out. Inhale deeply through your mouth, then exhale slowly through your nose.
Breath of fire: Breath of fire is a breathing technique that is said to help improve digestion, circulation, and respiratory function. It is similar to Bhastrika breath, but with quicker and shorter breaths. To do this breath, inhale and exhale rapidly and forcefully through your nose, keeping your abdominal muscles pulled in tight.
4-7-8 breath: The 4-7-8 breath is a relaxing breath that can help you fall asleep. To do this breath, exhale completely through your mouth. Then, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, to a count of eight. Repeat this cycle four times.
Cobra breath: Cobra breath is a breathing technique that is said to help improve lung function and increase energy levels. To do this breath, lie on your stomach with your legs extended behind you. Place your hands flat on the ground next to your shoulders and press into your palms to lift your head and chest off the ground. Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale fully through your mouth. Repeat this cycle for 10-15 breaths.
Lion’s breath: Lion’s breath is a breathing technique that can help to release tension in the face and jaw. To do this breath, sit up tall with your spine straight. Stick your tongue out and exhale fully through your mouth, making an “ahh” sound. As you exhale, simultaneously drop your jaw and close your eyes. Inhale through your nose and return to your starting position. Repeat this cycle for 10-15 breaths.
Skull shining breath: Skull shining breath is a breathing technique that is said to help improve mental clarity and focus. To do this breath, sit up tall with your spine straight. Close your eyes and exhale completely through your nose. Then, inhale deeply through both nostrils and exhale through your mouth, making a “ha” sound. Repeat this cycle for 10-15 breaths.
Breath work can be done on its own or as part of a yoga practice. It can be helpful to try different types of breathing and see which one works best for you. If you have any medical conditions, please consult your doctor before trying any new breathing techniques.
Mindfulness of breathing, or mindfulness of breath
Mindfulness of breathing is a type of mindfulness meditation that involves focusing on the breath. To do this, simply sit with your spine straight and focus your attention on your breath. Notice the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breath. You can practice mindfulness of breathing for 5-10 minutes or longer.
Focused breathing is a type of mindfulness meditation that involves focusing on a specific part of the body. To do this, simply sit with your spine straight and focus your attention on the sensation of your breath in a specific part of the body, such as the nostrils, chest, belly, or abdomen. You may like to complete 3 breath cycles in focuses on each one. This type of breathing helps maintain concentration and therefore helps to mind to stay focused. If your mind does wanders, simply bring your attention back and non-judgemental begin again. You can practice focused breathing for 5-10 minutes or longer.
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