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!
Ujjayi or “ocean breath” is typically done during asana practice. Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose, and the "ocean sound" is created when the air is exhaled fully out of the nose. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, which is strengthened with Ujjayi.
Ujjayi breathing is also a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation in the body and builds internal body heat. Other benefits include regulating blood pressure and toning the lungs.
Kapalabhati breathing consists of a series of forceful exhalations - either from the nose or mouth - followed by passive inhalations. Exhaling from the nose builds heat in the body while exhaling from the mouth will cool down the body. The exhalations are ejected from the lower belly in sharp bursts, which help to strengthen the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This detoxifying breath cleanses the lungs and respiratory system by removing toxins from the body and mind, helps release stress and negative emotions, and is effective in combating sluggishness. It also increases oxygen in cells, purifying blood in the process. Furthermore, Kapalabhati can improve digestion and enhance focus.
However, you must not practice Kapalabhati if you are pregnant or menstruating, or if you have high blood pressure, acid gastric issues, heart disease or abdominal pain. You should also stop or slow down when you start to feel dizzy or anxious.
Quantum Pause breathing, also known as Box breathing, is a technique that simply involves inhaling for 4 counts, pausing for 4, exhaling for another 4 counts, pausing for 4 again and repeat. This technique encourages a full inhalation and exhalation of the lungs, which exercises them and increases lung capacity and efficiency of oxygen transfer. Quantum Pause also 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. 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.
Nadi Shodana, also known as “alternate nostril breathing”, is a Pranayama technique that is primarily aimed at bringing balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It is done by placing the middle and index finger on the forehead (between the eyebrows) while placing the thumb and pinkie on each nostril. Use the thumb and pinkie to pinch shut the right nostril while inhaling with the left for 4 counts. Pause. Pinch the left one shut while exhaling with the right nostril for 4 beats. Pause. Inhale with the right, pinch it shut, pause, then exhale again with the left nostril, still in counts of 4. This counts as one cycle. Repeat Nadi Shodana anywhere between 10 - 30 cycles.
Nadi Shodana comprises of all the same detoxifying and relaxing benefits of Pranayama with the added perks of alleviating respiratory allergies and balancing masculine and feminine energies.
Find some balance with your breathing in our sessions today!