Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques play an important role in developing a yoga practice. Not only these techniques support and deepen the yoga asana practice, learning how to calm or energize the body through breathing greatly benefits all aspects of your life. Paying attention to the breath is by itself a meditation technique that can be used on or off the mat, as it has the effect of keeping us constantly in the present moment.
What is Prana(yama)?
Prana is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as life force, or life energy, the power that flows in all living beings and it is a driving mechanism for all vital functions. Word yama means “to extend” or “to draw out”. Together, the two mean breath extension or breath control.
The breathing itself is under the authority of our autonomic nervous system. Meaning the brain has the last word. When we are relaxed and calmed, the breathing follows, the brain cooperates. When we are nervous, stressed or anxious brain biochemically translates these signals into life threatening danger alerts, making our breath short and fast. But luckily for us, the brain – body communication is bidirectional. Meaning, it is possible to “trick” the brain. With intentional, focused, controlled breathing we are sending the message to the brain that everything is OK even when it’s not, but we need serenity. Now! Breathing with awareness brings our body and mind to the state of relaxation, and peacefulness even if you just found out that your favorite football team lost that important match in which u “invested” the equivalent of your 3 average salaries. And the betting odds were SO in your favor this time.. Well, if that happens, try with the Top 3 pranayama quick fix:
Ujjayi Breath (Victorious Breath)
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This clasicall pranayama practice is known for its soothing and soft-vibrating sound. Ujjayi breath is warming and cleansing; when done mindfully it works in both directions, energizes as well as calms and balances. To try it out, inhale through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth, making a “HA” sound. Do this few times, then close your mouth, keeping the back of your throat in the same shape you used to make the same “HA” sound but this time exhaling through the nose. You can use this technique throughout your asana practice, meditation or simply to relax and bring back the focus.
Bhramari (Bee Breath)
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This technique instantly quiets the mind, relieves tension and “buzzes off” the anxiety. Sit up straight and close your eyes. Cover your eyes with your fingers and gently press your ears with your thumbs. Take a deep breath in. As you are breathing out, make a humming sound like a bee, keeping your mouth closed and your teeth slightly apart. Make your exhalation long and smooth. Do this 5-10 times. Bee Breath should be done on an empty stomach.
Nadi shodana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
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Did you know that with the nostrils we can even check which part of the brain is more active at the given moment. When the breath predominantly goes in and out through the right nostril, the left side of the brain is more active (logic, linear thinking and understanding). When the left nostril is more active then the right side of the brain is at work (imagination, abstract thinking, arts). That’s why Nadi sodhana technique brings balance to the left and right hemisphere of the brain and clears the energy channels on both sides of the body. It also fosters and alert mind, mental clarity and better concentration. To try it out, close your right hand and then extend your thumb, ring finger and little finger. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring and little finger. Open your right nostril and exhale slowly through it. Inhale through the right nostril then close it. Open your left nostril and exhale slowly through it. That counts as one cycle. Repeat 3-5 times.
When the mind becomes fully focused on breathing, at least for short, we become free of our never sleeping “inner chatter”, of all the thinking patterns, information overload, the past and the future, instead of doing, we are “just” being.