Yoga breathing exercises are prominent in practicing yoga past beginner level, as it deepens all aspects of yoga practice. Yoga breathing helps improve focus and concentration, endure deeper and longer stretches, increase endurance and create a more peaceful mind. Whether you choose an energetic type of yoga such as Vinyasa yoga or a quieter yoga such as Yin yoga, learning the yoga breathing techniques will be part of the process.
Yoga breathing – remembering to breathe
Even though you may be thinking, “how hard can breathing be”, there are certain yoga breathing techniques that will take time to grasp.
The first hurdle many beginners find, is to actually remember to breathe. It is amazing to discover when you become mindful of your breathing patterns through awareness, how many times you find yourself holding your breath unintentionally.
When exercising, when waiting for something or someone, concentrating on a task in hand, or even writing a text message – even the simplest of things can create a gap in our breathing.
Yoga will help you to become aware off your breathing patterns whilst conducting yoga, which in turn will help you become more aware outside of the yoga class too.
Yoga breathing techniques
There are many yoga breathing exercises used throughout yoga practice, some of which should only be carried out alongside a trained yoga teacher.
In Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the third of the eight limbs of yoga refers to the asanas (the poses), the fourth is pranayama (breathing). Many yoga practitioners, even those who have been practicing for years, get stuck on “limb 3”, just perfecting the poses, because they haven’t mastered the breathing.
Mastering the breathing, according to Pantanjali, will then open the pathway to the higher limbs of yoga, including withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyani) and absorption (samadhi), the final of which is considered as enlightenment.
Correct yoga breathing is a great discipline to get into from the start of learning, but it is never too late to start to improve and master the techniques.
Practice these 3 basic breathing techniques and it will help you greatly in your yoga practice.
The key is focus and concentration.
Sometimes referred to as “Sama Vritti” or “Equal breathing”, the key aim of this exercise is simply to practice becoming aware of breath and your own breathing patterns.
- Lie comfortably on the floor with arms by your side
- Lift your knees enough so your feet lie flat on the floor
- Place your hand onto your belly so you can feel the physical movements of your breath
- Become aware of your breathing pattern without judgement or attempting to change it
- Now begin making conscious breaths, through the nose, attempting for the inhale and exhale to be the same length
- Aim for the count of 4 to start with and build up to 6 or 8 with more experience
- Feel your belly moving up and down with each breath
- Focus on the pause between the inhale and exhale and exaggerate this a bit if you like, pausing for a second before continuing smoothly
- Practice this for 12 breaths or so
- Aim to practice once a day
The benefits of this yoga breath are mainly related to improving awareness – something that helps greatly in yoga, but also in life too. This particular yoga breathing exercise also calms the nervous system, so it is perfect at times of stress or anxiety.
Typically when we breathe, we don’t fully inhale or exhale, but this particular yoga breathing exercise focuses on the exhale.
This yoga exercise can be highly relaxing and aid sleep or insomnia. To this effect it is best practised in the evening, before bed, or during the night if you are troubling to sleep. It is also beneficial for reducing anxiety though, so at times of stress this yoga breathing exercise can be a good trick to know.
- Lie comfortably on the floor and lift your knees enough so your feet lie flat on the floor
- Place your hand onto your abdomen
- Become aware of the lengths of each breath, counting both the seconds on the inhale and exhale
- If one is longer than the other, focus on equalling the lengths of each breath, keeping the rhythm smooth all the time
- Now, start to gradually increase the exhale – first by just 1 second, then 2 seconds, increasing it until it is up to double the length of the inhale
- For example, if your natural inhale is 3 seconds, then maximise your exhale at 6 seconds
- Take care not to feel uncomfortable as this will actually have the adverse effect and is likely to make you feel stressed, instead of relaxed.
- End this exercise with half a dozen natural breaths
- Practice this every day if possible
The yoga cooling breath, also known as Sitkari Pranayama, is called so as the effects when practiced correctly calm and “cool” the nervous system, so can help combat stress and anxiety. This yoga breathing exercise can also help to reduce anger and frustrations and improve focus and drowsiness.
- Sit comfortably on the floor, or on a chair
- Ensure the spine is erect with a natural curve and relax the shoulders
- Open the mouth slightly and place your tongue gently behind your top teeth
- Inhale through the mouth, as you raise your chin
- Close your mouth and exhale through your nose as you lower your chin to a neutral position
- Repeat 8 to 12 times
- If you can practice this yoga breathing exercise twice a day then you should be fully rehearsed to bring this into your yoga practice
Beginners to yoga are somewhat “let off the hook” a bit in the introductory yoga classes, as many do naturally forget to breathe when concentrating on learning the postures – it is a lot to take in!
Don’t be surprised if your yoga teacher shouts “breathe” many times through the class, they will only be trying to remind you that it is important and a good habit to get into from the start of learning yoga.
However, it is also something that once you are a little rehearsed with the postures, you can then start to focus on introducing the yoga breathing exercises with movement of the postures.
Ashtanga yoga is particularly focused on matching deep breaths with every move.