Breathing is important, of course it is. In other words, it’s what keeps us alive. But how often do we take time out to focus on our breathing? Probably not a lot unless you have been instructed to do so by your yoga teacher! We are all great at breathing none the less, and how clever of our bodies to take care of this without us even thinking about it. Pranayama is our life force, our breath. One of the eight limbs of Yoga, it is an important part of practice we can bipass thinking about as we focus on nailing the different asanas.
But, there are plenty of techniques you will be interested in adding into your practice;
- Breath Retention
- Channel Cleaning Breath
- Conqueror Breath
- Dear Seal
- Lion Pose
- Root Bond
- Single Nostril Breath
- Skull Shining Breath
- Sama Vritti Pranayama
Our very own Jane says:- Bhastrik Pranayama is her favourite breathing technique to use in her classes and describes it as the ‘sniffing dog’. Bhastrika is a small short breaths performed fast. A common position to do this in is a forward facing plank.
You may of come across some of these techniques in your classes already and wondered what the benefits are. If the breath is quick and shallow, this can trigger a panic response within the body as it thinks its under stress or in danger. For example, the body can switch into fight or flight mode, and bring forward feelings of stress and anxiety, even if we aren’t actually in a dangerous situation. However, focusing on slowing the breath, taking longer and slower inhales and exhales, actually calms the nervous system, creates awareness and focus on the present moment, and is a form of meditation. Mindful breathing is the simplest way to lower stress levels, and it can be done anytime, anywhere.
The most common breathing techniques you probably come across in class are;
Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal Part Breath)
Becoming aware of the breath we start to increase the length of each inhale and exhale to a count of 4 (this number can increase throughout practice). We inhale for four, pause for four, and slowly exhale for 4. Keeping all parts of the breath even.
Ujjayi (Ocean Breath)
Known for its soft soothing oceanic sound, breathing through the nose creating a ‘HAA’ on the exhale. The sound of Ujjayi is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. It is an energising and relaxing breath to help guide you through your practice.
So what movements benefit what breath?
When we are forward folding or twisting, this is on the exhale as as the lungs empty, it creates more space. The muscles also relax more on the exhale, sinking down. Therefore you can stretch, reach or twist slightly further.
When we are lifting or opening in a posture, this is when we should inhale. Inhalation is energising the body as its taking the oxygen inwards. As the lungs expand the heart can project forward more.
Breathing techniques can be practiced anywhere, on the go, in class or at home. Anytime you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or stressed, turn your attention inwards and focus on the breath.