I like the cool crisp autum air, it makes me feel my breath and breathe deeply. And this invariably lifts my mood.
How to practice a breathing technique
Once we have learned how to do breathing techniques we can apply them anytime, anywhere, in any position. While we are learning, it can help to set aside about 10 minutes, to make ourselves comfortable by lying down on a bed or the floor, or by sitting in a chair with the back supported. Any clothes that restrict our breathing should be loosened.
We learn more quickly if we practice breathing techniques regularly, as part of our health daily routine or a yoga home practice.
Back to basics: deep diaphragmatic breathing
The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs, separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. The diaphragm moves during respiration. As it contracts, the diaphragm moves lower, the chest cavity enlarges, and the pressure inside the lungs reduces. To equalize the pressure, air enters the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes it moves back up and the air in our lungs is being pushed out.
- To practice deep diaphragmatic breathing, place one hand on your abdomen, the other hand on your chest.
- Inhale slowly through the nose, counting from 1-5. Inflate your stomach so that it moves out against your hand while the hand on your chest remains as still as possible.
Breathe out slowly – either through the nose or through the mouth – counting again from 1-5. Draw your abdomen inwards but keep your chest still.
- Keep doing this for 3-5 minutes.
- Observe if you are holding tension in our body during the exercise, for example in the shoulders or the face. Consciously relax these areas.
- At the beginning, diaphragmatic breathing may feel strange and may require effort. You may even get tired while practising. Over time, it will become effortless and will feel natural.
Feel calmer with alternate nostril breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama, is perhaps the most famous yogic breathing technique, known for its calming effect. It can also lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate.
- Sit cross-legged or in Lotus Pose, Padmasana. Take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths.
- Inhale through your left nostril. Hold the breath briefly, close the left nostril and exhale through the right.
Next, inhale throught the right nostril, hold the breath briefly while closing the right nostril and and exhale through the left.
This is one round.
- Use your right thumb to close/release the right nostril, and your right ring finger to close/release the left nostril.
- Breath slowly and smoothly.
- One of the yoga classics, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, recommends to practice “4-times per day, in the early morning, at noon, in the evening, and at midnight, until a count of of eighty is reached.
- Should your right arm get tired, support it with your left hand or place a bolster on your legs to rest your elbow on.
- Stop should you feel dizzy.
Feel empowered with skull-shining breath
Skull-shining breath, Kapalabhati, is known as a technique to release stress and toxins from mind and body. It can also help let go of negative emotions, such as excessive anger or frustration, and shake off fatigue.
Kapalabhati consists of a series of forceful exhalations, followed by passive inhalations.
Word of caution: Do NOT practice Kapalabhati when pregnant, if you you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or after abdominal surgery. Stop should you feel dizzy.
- Take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths.
- Inhale moderately deep through the nose.
- With a quick, forcefull contraction, expel all the air from your lungs, drawing your abdominals towards your spine.
Allow your lungs to fill up naturally, without conscious effort. Your abdomen will expand.
- Repeat this cycle 10 times, then breathe naturally a few times. Repeat the cycles of then up to 5 times.
- When you practice Kapalabhati, visualize your skull filling with a bright light. Start at a slow pace and increase the pace as you become more familiar with the technique.
Breathe in. Chill out.
“When the breath is disturbed, the mind is unsteady. When the breath becomes focused, the mind becomes focused, and the yogi attains steadiness.”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika II.2