Best Yoga Breathing Practices
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” – Author unknown
The way you breathe is very important in the practice of yoga postures or Asanas. Breathing plays a central role in yoga practice because breath is considered our vital force or Prana; our body’s Prana demands change based on our actions – some exercises require more oxygen and breathing becomes faster, while calmer actions encourage a relaxed and deep breath.
When practicing yoga, one must be aware of the inhalation and exhalation processes, as the way Prana enters and leaves the body has an effect on our entire body-mind complex.
Having control of your breath is required in any physical discipline; in aerial yoga, yoga breathing practices are even more important as the way you breathe makes the difference between feeling balanced and grounded after your practice, or feeling dizzy and too floaty. Aerial yoga instructors will generally advise students to try the following tips while taking an aerial yoga class:
- Concentrate on feeling the upward pull of the hammock during inhalation and become aware of the downward pull of gravity during exhalation
- Balance between inversions and right-side up postures – aerial yoga is not only about upside down postures
- Take a few breaths at the end of the session, lying or standing on the floor and acknowledging your connection to it – this will help you process the experiences you’ve had while using the aerial yoga hammock
- The hammock should be used in ways that enhance yoga alignment and breath – not all acrobatics performed with a hammock are part of an aerial yoga session
- Use your breath to help you find your centre – breathing as deep as you can you will pull energy into the core of the body to compensate for the outward pull of the hammock.
Regardless of what type of yoga you practice, you will need to master the main yoga breathing types, as each style of breathing has its own benefits and should be used with specific postures.
Yoga Breathing Practices:
Most known for the crazy way you look while performing it, the lion’s breath goes with simhasana or lion’s pose and includes a forceful exhalation. The name comes from the lion-like face expression of the yogi and the roaring sound of the breath when performing this pranayama.
How it’s performed
Start in simhasana and lower your jaw to open the mouth wide. Inhale through the nose. Stretch your tongue out and curl it down, while looking towards the sky. Perform a forceful exhalation while making a roar-like sound. You should feel the air passing over the back of your throat. Repeat two or three times. Do the exhalation wholeheartedly to enjoy the full benefits.
The effects of the lion’s pose and the corresponding type of breath are the reduction of stress and anger, the release of tension, and the elimination of negative energy. On the long term, this type of breath will make you feel more empowered and improve your self-esteem. Some sources claim that the simhasana pose combined with lion’s breath is good for people who stutter.
Breath of fire
Used in Kundalini yoga, breath of fire is also called fast breathing and its goal is to increase prana in the body. The respiration rate increases to 100 to 120 breaths per minute – it’s important to keep in mind that the breaths should be deep and of equal length.
How it’s performed
The breath of fire can be performed in the lotus pose (padmasana) or in the thunderbolt pose (vajrasana). Wait a few minutes until your body enters a relaxed state and you naturally breathe quietly. Begin fast breathing by increasing the speed of your quiet breathing and make sure you both inhale and exhale fully through the nose or the mouth. You will feel the diaphragm being pushed out during the inhale and pulled during the exhale.
Benefits of the breath of fire include better oxygenation of the blood, increasing lung capacity, revitalising cells, increasing prana in the body, energizing the mind, and clearing nasal passages.
Avoid this type of breath if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or are pregnant. You may face symptoms like dizziness and light-headedness, but they will disappear within a few minutes of returning to normal breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is among the most beneficial yoga breathing practices. It is preferred by those who need to get rid of agitating thoughts and have trouble falling asleep because of stress. Called nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing will help you to calm down immediately any time you are nervous.
How it’s performed
Use a comfortable, tall seat and bring your right hand in front of your face while the left palm is relaxed in your lap. The pointer finger and the middle finger of your right hand should rest between your eyebrows; close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril slowly. Use the ring finger to close the left nostril and retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a short period. Open the right nostril to release the breath slowly. Make a short pause at the bottom of the exhale. Inhale through the right side slowly, hold both nostrils closed, and open the left nostril to release breath through the left side. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Aside from calming the mind and releasing stress, the alternate nostril breathing offers the following advantages: supporting the respiratory function, revitalising the nervous system, helping to eliminate toxins, balancing the two hemispheres of the brain, and improving the yogi’s ability to focus. It is perfect when you are anxious about an upcoming presentation or simply when you are stressed.
Oftentimes the first breathing technique taught to new practitioners, Dirga (or Deerga) Swasam Pranayama or three-part breathing refers to the three parts of the body employed while breathing – abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. It is also called the complete breath and it tackles the problem of ineffective breathing caused by poor posture and prolonged sitting.
How it’s performed
The three-part breathing can be performed in a variety of poses, on condition that your spine is straight and you abdomen is not compressed, from the easy pose (Sukhasana) to the bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana). The body should be relaxed and the left hand should be placed on the lower abdomen, below the belly button, while the right hand should be placed on the outer right edge of the rib cage. Start feeling aware of your breath and focus on the natural lift of you belly and the expansion of your ribs. Press on your abdomen gently to help exhale air. Bring your left hand to your chest, placing it in the centre bellow the collarbone. When inhaling, breathe all the way into the chest area and feel it rising slightly. Exhale completely and as you continue remain aware of this three-part movement: belly lifts, ribs expand, and chest rises during inhale, and chest drops, ribs contract, and belly softens and lowers as you exhale.
This technique teaches you how to breathe fully and completely; shallow breathing or chest breathing causes a lack of oxygen to blood vessels and subsequently increased stress and anxiety levels. The three-part breathing can be performed in everyday life in almost any position and instantly brings a state of awareness.
Curious about the way these yoga breathing practices integrate within an aerial yoga routine?
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