Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Pranayama or breathing exercises play an integral role when practicing Yoga Asana. You’ve likely heard a yoga teacher remind their class to “steady the breath,” “control the breath,” or “come back to the breath.” Focusing on the breath for an hour is excellent, but how can we take that awareness off the mat?
And, is it possible to feel the same level of calm in traffic that we do when we are in a class? You don’t need the studio, the spandex, or the lengthy time commitment to reap the benefits of a complete yoga practice. Try these four breathing exercises anytime you’re feeling stressed, anxious, scared, or exhausted.
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Prana means life force energy, and Yama means control. The prana enters our bodies through the breath, and when we practice mindfulness while breathing, we can direct the energy throughout our bodies, leaving us feeling alert, calm, and focused.
How to Practice Belly Breathing
The most straightforward place to begin your Pranayama journey is with a technique called Belly Breathing, also referred to as Diaphragmatic Breathing. This practice is simple yet effective and, when done correctly, can lower the heart rate and blood pressure, reduce oxygen demand, and promote relaxation. In 2017 Medical News Today found a study that Belly Breathing reduces the stress hormone level, cortisol relieving patient anxiety. This practice has been shown to alleviate symptoms in chronic conditions such as Asthma and COPD.
Try Belly Breathing:
1. Find a comfortable seat, perhaps against the wall, or lie flat on the floor.
2. Place one hand on your heart and one hand above your belly button.
3. Slowly inhale to a count of 4. As your diaphragm fills with air and you feel your hand rise with your breath.
4. Slowly exhale to a count of 4. Consciously relax the muscles of your diaphragm and core.
5. Practice 5-20 minutes.
Tip: Sounds simple, but the trick is making sure you aren’t holding or clenching your core muscles upon exhale. If it helps, you can imagine an accordion opening and closing or a hot air balloon rising and falling.
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How to Practice Box Breath
The Box Breath technique happens in 4 stages and uses breath retention upon inhaling and exhale. It’s popular among Navy Seals to promote alertness during training. Mark Divine, Seal, and coach, says “when I perform box breathing, even just for five minutes, I am left with a deeply calm body and an alert, focused state of mind.” The good news is you don’t have to be a top athlete to reap box breathing benefits. This practice is an excellent precursor to meditation and has been reported as a powerful stress reducer.
Try Box Breath
1. Find a comfortable seat.
2. Exhale completely.
3. Take a slow inhale through the nose for four counts and hold the breath in for four counts.
4. Exhale out the mouth softly for four counts and hold the breath out for four counts.
5. Practice for 5-20 minutes.
Tip: Since holding the breath in any capacity can prompt an adverse effect and cause anxiety, we recommend starting slow, and if you are to feel funny at all, stop and practice belly breathing instead.
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
In Sanskirt, Nadi means channel, and Shodhana means purification. It is believed that this practice cleanses and clears stagnant, misplaced, or weak energy within the feminine channel (Ida) and the masculine channel (Pingala). Nadi Shodhana can release toxins, reduce stress and anxiety, balance hormones, alleviate respiratory allergies, balance the right and left hemispheres of the body, and promote concentration.
Try Alternate Nostril Breathing
1. Find a comfortable seat
2. Take your right hand and fold your pointer and middle finger toward your palm, leaving your thumb, ring, and pink exposed.
3. Plug your right nostril and inhale into your left nostril
4. Switch, plug your left nostril, and exhale right
5. Begin your next inhale into the right nostril
6. Practice for 5-20 minutes
Related: Keep nurturing yourself! Try these 4 Different Types of Self Care
How to Practice Lion’s Breath
Roaring like a lion, YES! Practice Lion Breath in the middle of a stressful day to help melt tension and boost energy levels. This practice can alleviate stress, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, expand lung capacity, and increase productivity.
Try Lion’s Breath
1. Find a comfortable seat or sit on your shins and close your eyes.
2. Lean slightly forwards and place your hands on your knees or the floor in possible
3. Deeply inhale into the nose.
4. Upon exhale, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue as far as you can and make a “HA” sound (Pretend a doctor is looking at your tonsils.)
5. When exhaling, open your eyes as big as you can and try to gaze at your eyebrows.
6. Repeat 5-10 times
Tip: This Pranayama practice is pretty out there, so don’t worry if you feel shy at first. Try practicing it alone during a home yoga practice or even use it as a part of your warm-up for a sweaty workout! Due to the stimulating nature of this one, we suggest not practicing too close to bedtime.
Pro Tip: Enhance your meditation practice with a crystal, like this Rose Quartz Egg
When you begin your Pranayama practice, it’s critical to stay vigilant about self-regulation by continually checking in with how you’re feeling. The four suggested practices listed above are generally safe for most people and can be practiced freely without the risk of contraindications. However, other pranayamas require more of a rigorous approach and can be harmful if done improperly.
If, at any point, you feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, or off in any way, stop immediately. Always do your research before embarking on new practice and consult your doctor if you have preexisting conditions that might be triggered during a breathing exercise.