A vital component in yoga is Pranayama - learning how to regulate our breathing. Prana in Sanskrit means life force, but it is generally taken to mean the breath. The breath has been said to be the remote control of the mind! By controlling our breath, we are able to overcome any physical or emotional discomfort that arises from our yoga practice. Observing the breath is also an efficient way to ground into the present moment when meditating. Advanced practitioners who have mastered their breath can do incredible things, such as free-diving down to remarkable depths without an oxygen tank and regulating the body’s core temperature in extreme cold. For restorative purposes, Pranayama has been efficient in treating a range of stress-related disorders, clearing toxins in the body, balancing hormones and much more!
Here at HOA, we use 4 Pranayama techniques in our session, each with very distinct purposes. Read on to learn more about them!
1a. Chandra Anga Pranayama
Means the Moon or lunar breath, works primarily with the Ida Nadi to bring about coolness, relaxation and tranquility. The breath works powerfully on the right hemisphere of the brain, and has been useful in accessing mental patterns and unconscious habits. This predominantly activates the parasympathetic nervous system, moon channel.
How to do it—You may choose to either sit or lie down. Block the side of your right nostril, and begin to inhale slowly from the left for 1,2,3,4 pause… exhale gentle from the left for 4,3,2,1 pause. Repeat 20 times slow and steady.
When to do it—Chandra Anga is a calm, soothing breath that can be done any time of day. You can practice it many times throughout your day — even two or three breaths will have a positive effect! Remember to keep it easy and relaxed, and you will discover the benefits of Pranayama spilling over into all areas of your life.
1b. Surya Anga Pranayama
Means Sun or solar breath, works primarily with the Pingala Nadi to bring about focus, awareness and energy. The breath works powerfully on the left hemisphere of the brain, and has been useful in expressing mental creativity and connecting with the external world. This predominantly activates the sympathetic nervous system, solar channel.
How to do it—You may choose to either sit or lie down. Block the side of your left nostril, and begin to inhale from the right for 1,2,3,4 pause… exhale from right for 4,3,2,1 pause. Repeat 20 times slow and steady.
When to do it—Surya Anga is a calm, soothing breath that can be done any time of day. You can practice it many times throughout your day — even two or three breaths will have a positive effect! Remember to keep it easy and relaxed, and you will discover the benefits of Pranayama spilling over into all areas of your life.
2. Kapalabhati Pranayama
Means skull shining breath. It’s a Pranayama exercise as well as an internal Kriya, or cleansing technique. Practitioners of Kapalabhati believe that this breath will help clear mucus in the air passages, relieve congestion, reduce bloating, and improve lung capacity. Kapalabhati is an invigorating breath that can build heat in the body.
How to do it—Now sit on your heels and settle in. Inhale briefly through both nostrils, then sharply exhale (again out of your nose) while pulling your navel in toward your spine. The exhalation is short and quick, but very active, while the inhalation is short and passive. Again, pull your navel in as you exhale and soften it on the inhalation. Do one round of 30 (counting your exhalations) and rest for a minute with some deep breaths in between. Repeat on more time. If this seems strenuous, start with 15 and gradually work your way up. Allow the exhalations to be equal and short. Do not rush!
When to do it—Kapalabhati is great to do in the morning to get energised. Not recommended to do it after 8pm. You may also try it when you’re feeling congested, bloated or sluggish, but don’t try it on a full stomach. Avoid this technique if you are pregnant, if you are suffering from blood pressure issues or heart conditions.
3. Dirga Pranayama
Is slow complete breath exercise. It is often the first breathing technique taught to new meditation or yoga practitioners. The “three parts” are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. During Three-Part Breath, you first completely fill your lungs with air, as though you are breathing into your belly, ribcage, and upper chest. Then you exhale completely, reversing the flow.
How to do it—You can choose to lie down or sit up. Close your eyes. Relax your face and body, and breathe naturally through your nose. Place your left hand on your low abdomen, a few inches below your belly button, and place your right hand on the outer right edge of your rib cage. Begin to focus your awareness on your breath as it moves in and out of your body through your nose. On your inhalations, feel the natural lift of your belly, followed by the expansion of your ribs. On your exhalations, feel the slight compression of your ribs, followed by the drop of your belly. Exhale completely, pressing very gently on your abdomen to help expel air. Next, bring your left hand to your chest, placing it in the center, just below your collarbone. As you inhale, breathe all the way into this area and allow your chest to rise slightly. Then, exhale completely. As you continue to breathe, keep your awareness on this three-part movement. As you inhale, your belly lifts, your ribs expand, and your chest rises. As you exhale, your chest drops, your ribs contract, and your belly softens and lowers. Continue at your own pace, gradually letting the three parts of the breath flow smoothly without pausing. Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath, continuing the three-part breath with full and complete inhalations and exhalations. Continue for up to five minutes, or for as long as you feel comfortable.
When to do it—You can practice it many times throughout your day — even two or three breaths will have a positive effect! Remember to keep it easy and relaxed, and you will discover the benefits of Pranayama spilling over into all areas of your life.
4. Quantum Pause Pranayama
This technique encourages a full inhalation and exhalation of the lungs, which exercises, increases lung capacity and efficiency of oxygen transfer which results in better oxygenation of the brain which leads to greater mental clarity. Like other pranayama techniques, Quantum Pause can detoxify the body, as deep breathing stimulates the lymphatic system which picks up toxins and excretes them.
How to do it—Can be applied anytime and anywhere be it sitting up or lying down simply inhale for 1,2,3,4 pause, and say I AM silently. Exhale through the mouth for 4,3,2,1 pause, and say WE ARE silently. Once you understand the rhythm of this breath-work begin to say silently I AM on an in-breath pause to feel the Prana and WE ARE on an out-breath and pause to feel the Prana. Repeat 10 times.
When to do it—This breathing technique can be applied when going into study, sport, work or meditation as it brings enhanced focus. The even pace of breathing will also greatly relax the body, and can help to ease us into sleep.
To download audio guidance on the 4 Pranayama Exercises, click HERE.
Written by Izzy Liyana, content creator & writer for HOA