Breath By Breath

Our Yoga 101: Breath By Breath resource explains several of the most common pranayama practices, or breathing techniques, in yoga. Integrate pranayama into your practice to awaken awareness, relieve stress, and connect to your inner self.


Ujjayi Pranayama


Sanskrit: Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi = Victorious; Prana = Life Force (Breath); Yama = Control; aka Victorious Breath
Ujjayi breath is one of the most common pranayama techniques practiced in yoga today. The ocean wave-like sound can be heard emanating from most yoga studios as practitioners seek victories of various kinds: victory over stress, victory over fatigue, and victory over ego, to name a few.
How to practice Ujjayi Pranayama:
*Begin by drawing a breath in through your nose. As you exhale, open your mouth and send air out as if you were fogging up a window, or whispering a drawn-out HA sound. Practice this a few times to get comfortable with the feeling and sound of this breath.
*Then seal your lips so that both your inhale and exhale move through the nostrils. Continue to breathe as if fogging up a window with your lips closed.
*Another way to think of it: Breathe in and out through your nose. Gently constrict your throat so that it feels as if your breath is coming from your throat. An ocean wave-like sound will emerge.
*Keep the flow of breath easy and smooth while making the inhale and exhale equal in duration.
*The mind stays present by focusing on the emergent sound.
*Calms the nervous system
*Slows down the breath and thereby helps us to access deeper regions of the lungs
*Encourages the muscles of the face and nose to relax

Nadi Shodhana


Sanskrit: Nadi Shodhana
Nadi = Energy Channel; Shodhana = Cleansing;
aka Alternate Nostril Breathing
Consider Nadi Shodhana a reset button for your energetic body. This pranayama practice cleanses the three energy channels for prana: the sushumna (central), the pingala (right), and the ida (left). Throughout the day, the flow of energy shifts between your right and left channels. You can observe the impact of this on your breath. At times, your right nostril will be dominant in breath, and at other times the pattern reverses and the left nostril is dominant. Nadi Shodhana cleanses and balances the flow of prana through the pingala and ida.
How to practice Nadi Shodhana:
*Hold your right hand out with your palm up. Tuck your index and middle fingers toward your palm. Your thumb will be used to close and open your right nostril. Your ring finger will be used to close and open your left nostril.
*Begin with a deep inhale. At the top of your breath, close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale fully through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril.
*At the top of your breath, close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale fully through the left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
*Repeat this pattern several times. Then finish with an inhale through your right nostril and an exhale through both nostrils. Return to natural breathing.
*As you become more comfortable with the pattern, try adding a count (such as 5-counts) to the duration of each breath so that your inhalations take the same amount of time as your exhalations. You may also try closing both nostrils at the top or bottom of your breath and holding for 5-counts. If advancing the technique in these ways creates any panic, return to the basic practice described above. Our goal is to calm the nervous system, never to create stress.
*Balances the flow of prana through the energetic body
*Oxygenates both hemispheres of the brain equally
*Slows down the breath and calms the nervous system

Lion Pose


Sanskrit: Simhasana
Simha = Lion; Asana = Pose
Lion Pose may look and feel a little silly, but the benefits are numerous. Lion Pose is a liberating and invigorating pranayama technique that can be performed in a comfortable kneeling position or combined with any pose. Take a few of these breaths to uplift your energy and release negativity.
Hot to practice Lion Pose:
*Begin by drawing a breath in through your nose.
*In preparation for your exhale, open your mouth and stick your tongue out so that the tip of your tongue reaches for your chin.
*As you exhale, gently contact the muscles and the front of the throat and let out a slow “ha” sound.
*Open your eyes wide and cross them. Some texts instruct to set your gaze at the spot between the eyebrows. Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose.
*Relieves tension from the neck, jaw and facial muscles
*Boosts vitality
*Promotes a healthy and open throat chakra
*Relieves headaches
*Fortifies the voice and promotes self-expression

Sitali Pranayama


Sanskrit: Sitali
Cooling Breath
On hot days or at the peak of a vigorous yoga session, practice Sitali to cool and refresh your mind and body. Sitali can be performed in a comfortable sitting position or combined with any other pose.
How to practice Sitali:
*Roll your tongue so that the sides of your tongue meet to form a tube.
*As you inhale slowly, draw air in through the tube of your tongue and feel your lungs expand fully.
*At the top of your inhale, withdraw and relax your tongue. Close your mouth and seal your lips.
*Exhale slowly through your nose and repeat.
*The tongue may taste bitter at first. This is a good sign that you are detoxifying and purifying. Soon that taste will turn from bitter to sweet.
*Promotes cooling
*Soothes the nervous system and rejuvenates positive energy
*Reduces tension and high blood pressure
*Develops focus and concentration
*Cools stomach fire and indigestion

Breath of Fire


Sanskrit: Bhastrika or Kapalabahti
Breathing like a bellows; Shining skull; aka Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire is one of the foundational breathing techniques practiced in Kundalini Yoga. It is a cleansing and rhythmic breathing technique that taps into an unlimited source of energy.
How to practice Breath of Fire:
*In a comfortable crossed-leg seated position, begin by taking several slow and deep breaths through the nose to open the lungs.
*At first, place one hand on your low abdomen, stick out your tongue, and try panting like a dog to feel the pump of the naval.
*Then, with lips sealed, breathe rapidly in and out through the nose and pump your naval point in and out.
*As you exhale, the naval draws in toward your spine, and as you inhale, naval relaxes out.
*Keep your diaphragm relaxed emphasize your inhale and exhale equally.
*Start by repeating a few breaths sequentially, then work your way up to one minute of Breath of Fire or more. If you feel dizzy or short of breath, stop until you feel you have regained control. It may take practice before your feel you can sustain coordination for an extended period of time. Be patient.
*Avoid Breath of Fire if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, epilepsy, or have hd recent abdominal surgery.
*Oxygenates and purifies the bloodstream
*Stimulates the nadis and the flow of energy through the body
*Brings all systems of the body into rhythmic sync
*Balances the pituitary gland and entire endocrine system
*Strengthens shaky nerves and the ability to retain control in stressful situations
*Increases lung capacity and generates heat