Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Breath: Part Two

"By the regular and systematic practice of pranayama I have gained a state of purity, and am not disturbed even when the axis of the Earth is shaken." -- Yoga Vasistna

Not to be like, corny or obvious, but breathing is pretty dang important, right? If you're interested in anatomy and inner body workings, maybe you're interested in learning about the respiratory system itself.  I found a silly Indian video made for children, but I think it does a great job explaining the breathing process. Anyway, enough of the physical basics!

Our breath is the key to how we are feeling.  Is yours shallow, does the chest feel tight? That’s when we’re feeling nervous and need to manage stress.  Or maybe it’s slow, deep and continuous the way the breath becomes when we are completely relaxed.  If there is congestion or difficulty breathing, you may for instance need to drink more water, change your diet, tend to an illness, or practice a bit of vigorous exercise.  Observing the breath gives us information about how our body feels, especially if it’s not functioning at its optimal level. Focusing on the breath is what helps us through physical pain or emotional disturbances.  It influences our existence!  Oh jeez, I'm getting too excited haha.. Anyway, here are the pranayama I discussed in the first part of this feature.

Important to know before you try anything: Many of these are done seated (either on your knees or cross-legged), sitting tall with a straight spine so that the breath can flow and not be restrained or blocked.  If at any time you feel uncomfortable, dizzy or light-headed, return to breathing normally and if you begin again, continue with caution.

1. The Complete Breath: Sometimes it also called 'The Yogic Breath," or, more descriptively: deep diaphragmatic breathing.  I use this exercise any time of day, wherever I may be.  It is one of the most basic methods of breath practice.  Call on this breath to sort of "reset" yourself, be it a negative mind set you want to change or bringing your body back to a relaxed state.

How to: Inhale in three places using the same breath in.  Begin the inhalation by drawing it from your belly - it should rise like the photo above.  Then breathe into your ribs, and finally breathe into your upper chest or clavicle area. Pause, hold the breath for a moment, and then exhale completely.  The exhalation should be slow, in fact it may help you to count.  Experiment with different time increments (typically 3-8) if you'd like. Click here for video instruction!

2.  Ujjayi or Ocean Breath:  Ujjayi means to conquer or be victorious, so sometimes it is also referred to as "the breath of victory." It's called ocean breath because the sound is similar to a wave coming and going on the shore.   The sound or feeling in the throat may help you pay attention to your breathing, which is essential always, but especially when you perform physical yogic exercises.

How to: Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose.  When you exhale, again through the nose, hiss through the throat while keeping the mouth closed.  You can also think of it as trying to produce fog on a mirror with your breath.  Like I said though, mouth closed!  Use this when you're trying to hold a tough asana (posture,  'yoga pose').  Video here!

3. Kapalabhati: In Sanskrit, this means "skull shining."  The name refers to knowledge, ideas, or understanding.  Sometimes also called the breath of fire.  This is great when you want to get the blood flowing and find some energy!  It is also said to be good for releasing anger and improving concentration. Not recommended for those with cardiac and blood pressure issues.

How to: This technique consists of alternating inhalations & exhalations which can be described as quick and forceful.  You breath in 'bursts,' if that makes sense. Like pumping your stomach? For lack of a better way to explain it, the belly is kept somewhat loose as it pumps toward and away from the navel. Maybe it's better just to skip to video on this one! 

4. The Breath of Joy: This exercise has produced wonderful results for me.  It's a good one to try if you've got low energy or the blues.  Also great for getting going in the morning!

How to: Begin standing.  This technique is composed of 3 short inhalations and one forceful exhalation.  On the first inhalation (through your nose), raise your arms above your head. Inhale another short inhalation as you swing your arms out to either side of you.  Inhale one last time, raising the arms back overhead, and then exhale, swinging and bending forward with an exhalation through the mouth.  The sound should come as "ha!"  Try closing your eyes while performing it.  Notice your beating heart! Watch the video explanation?

I have more techniques coming up in part three of this post, so keep your eyes peeled.  Hope these help you a little in your day-to-day life... try 'em, they just might! :)


  1. We use some of this in my pilates class! Nice post on it :)

    Trendy Teal

  2. thanks for this! we used to do this back in school with one of our teachers before the class. it's really helpfull, especially in the mornings, gives you energy.