Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for breath control, which is the fourth limb in the 8 limbs of Ashtanga mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. If you have ever taken a yoga class before, you have probably practiced focusing on your breaths and breathing in a controlled way. This is what this limb is about.
Some types of pranayama are simple for a beginner, while you need to work up to other types that require control over your abdominal and pelvic muscles. You should generally sit in a seated position like Easy Pose or Lotus Pose with a straight spine while you practice breathing techniques.
There are numerous ways to control your breathing in yoga.
Some of them include:
- Ujjayi Breathing: In this breathing method, you breathe in through your nose and breathe out slowly through your open mouth while making a soft “ha” sound similar to the ocean’s waves. Breathe this way a few times and then try it with your mouth closed.
- Surya Bhedana Breathing: (single nostril breath) This technique involves breathing from one nostril at a time. The left nostril represents cooling in the body while the right side represents heating. If these systems are not balanced, it can throw you off and cause health conditions. If you practice this technique, you can balance them. To perform it, hold your left nostril shut with your finger and breathe in from your right nostril, then shut the right side and exhale from the left nostril. Do this for a few minutes and then switch sides to breathe in from your left nostril and breathe out from your right nostril.
- Dirga Breathing: This type of pranayama is a three-part breath which is often taught to beginners. This technique teaches you to take deeper breaths instead of the shallow ones many people take. You first focus on breathing into your belly, then you breathe a little more into the chest and then you draw a little more breath into the upper chest. Then, breathe out consecutively from the upper chest, then the middle chest and then the belly. Pause a moment after exhaling so the breath naturally fills the belly first. Continue with this method for a few minutes.