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In this second article we will continue to explore several other breathing techniques that are taught in most traditional yoga schools. The yogic tradition holds a deep reservoir of breathing exercises. Below are four more traditional breathing exercises for you to explore. Take a playful approach and move at your own speed.
As an aside, I have been practicing this art for many years and I find it can be very rewarding to set some time aside and just practice breathing exercises in a relaxed seated posture. This should be apart from your regular asana practice and in a space that allows you to focus only on this activity.
The goal of breathing exercise is to bring your complete attention to actively monitoring your breath capacity. In these exercises allow yourself to explore and experiment, only in this way can you discover the full range of your own breath. In my own explorations I have even clocked my inhales and exhale against a stop watch to determine what my range of breath truly is.
In yoga, pranayama is the science of breath control. By gaining greater awareness and control over our breathing automatically carries over to other parts of our lives. To live full, we must breathe full, so take a deep breath and dive in.
Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
It is often referred to as ocean breath, although Ujjayi is directly translated as “towards victory” This breathing pattern helps tone the lungs and encourages the free and healthy flow of energy. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and bringing oxygen to all parts of the lungs.
This breath enables the practitioner to maintain a rhythm to his or her practice, take in enough oxygen, and helps build energy to maintain practice, while clearing toxins out of the bodily system.
How it’s done
First using only your mouth, take a deep inhale and then a deep exhale. Try this several times until you feel relaxed and calm.
On your next exhale, slightly constrict the passage of air coming out of your lungs. This is similar to the method you would use to fog up your glasses. You should feel a faint vibration or a sensation of rubbing in the back of your throat. This will make a base hissing or Darth Vader sound. Repeat until this feels comfortable.
Once you feel at ease with this technique, close your mouth and begin to inhale and exhale through your nose. Your breathing should still have the same hissing sound, only this time it will come in and out of your nose.
Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayam)
This pranayama technique is known as "three-part breath." It trains one to breathe smoothly and use the full lungs as one breathes, getting maximum benefit of each breath. It is also a calming practice.
Benefits include training the body to breathe more deeply and evenly. This breath pattern helps to reduces stress and helps to increase mental clarity while increasing mind-body awareness.
How it’s done:
You can begin by observing your normal inhalation and exhalation, just observe and try not to change anything. If you become distracted by thoughts, don’t engage them. Just notice them and then let them go, bringing your attention back to your inhales and the exhales.
Step one: Begin with a deep inhale deeply through the nose, filling the belly up with your breath. Expand your belly with air like a balloon. With each exhale, expel all the air out from the belly through your nose. Draw the navel back towards your spine to make sure that the belly is empty of air. Repeat this deep belly breathing for about five breaths.
Step two: On the next inhale, again fill the belly up with air, then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart. On the exhale, release the air first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and them from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine. Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for about five breaths.
Step three: On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air as described above. Then draw in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around the heart to expand and rise. On the exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the heart center sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.
Continue at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.
Skull-shining Breath (Kapapabhati Pranayama)\
Kapalabhati is one of the most popular cleansing breaths. It is also called the "shining breath," since it is said to give a glow to the face of the long-term practitioner. It consists of a series of forceful exhalations followed by passive inhalations.
This breathing pattern helps remove toxins and cures illnesses of the respiratory tract. It is also oxygenates the body and purifies the blood and increases mental clarity. It is cleansing, invigorating, warming and can help to prevent illness and allergies. Regular practice improves the skin, tones the internal organs and strengthens the immune system.
How it’s done:
This breath consists of rapid, forced exhales followed by passive inhales. Come to sit in a comfortable cross legged position. Take two or three deep inhales and exhales through the nose to prepare.
Inhale to a comfortable level, and then exhale sharply and forcefully through the nose, drawing the belly in as you exhale. Let the inhale happen passively, and continue this cycle of forceful exhales and passive inhales at a fast pace, so that the belly is pumping continuously.
Do three rounds of thirty breaths each, coming back to deep inhales and exhales between each round. Come back to normal breathing if you feel lightheaded at any time.
Although it may feel awkward to some, lion’s breath works to relieves tension in the chest and the face and it helps to facilitate the three major bandhas. It also assists in stimulating the platysma muscle located in the front of the throat, the platysma. Additionally it may also help to firm the face and the neck as we age.
How it’s done:
Come to kneel with your seat resting in your feet. Place your hands on your knees and inhale through the nose.
Exhale through the mouth, making a "ha" sound. As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue as far out as possible towards your chin. Inhale, return to a neutral face, and then repeat 3-5 times.
Practicing these exercises will help develop your breath control. It takes only a few minutes from your day to consciously run through the practice. Try equal or calming breath at night in bed, it can really help to ease an anxious body to sleep.