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Author: Lisa Truesdale
Breathing. It seems like it should be the most natural bodily function of all, seeing that it’s the first thing we must do, without being taught how, the second we are born.
But then there’s yoga breathing: pranayama. It’s the art of breathing. Taking breathing to the next level. Learning different breathing techniques can add more beneficial oxygen to our bodies, aid in digestion, hone our concentration skills, calm our nerves, and much more.
Pranayama techniques are essential during a yoga practice, but can also be employed any time—when you wake up in the morning, when you’re sitting at your desk during a stressful day, when you’re relaxing after dinner, as part of a bedtime routine.
Here are three breathing exercises to get you started:
1. Sanskrit name: Bhramari
Informal name: Bee Breath
Purpose: Instantly calms the mind (and gets anxiety to “buzz off”). Relieves tension. Helps reduce blood pressure.
How-to: Sit up straight with eyes closed. Place your index fingers on the cartilage between your ears and cheeks. Take a deep breath in, and when you’re ready to exhale, press gently on the cartilage. As you breathe out, make a humming sound like a bee, keeping your mouth closed. A high-pitched hum is more effective, but a low-pitched hum works also. Do this 6-8 times.
Caution: Bee Breath should always be done on an empty stomach.
2. Sanskrit name: Kapal Bhati
Informal name: Skull Shining Breath
Purpose: A glowing, shining forehead is a sign of a healthy body, so that’s how this one got its name. Kapal Bhati brings the system into balance, releasing toxins and you exhale. It also stimulates the abdominal organs and can improve digestive-tract function.
How-to: Sit comfortably with an erect spine and place your hands on your knees with your palms facing up. Inhale deeply. Exhale forcefully, pulling your navel back towards your spine, and the breath automatically flows to your lungs. Do this 20 times, then relax and feel the sensations. Do up to two more rounds of 20 breaths.
Caution: Skull Shining Breath shouldn’t be attempted if you have an artificial pacemaker or stents, a slipped disc or other backache, epilepsy, hernia, or recent abdominal surgery. Do not practice this breath if you are pregnant, recently gave birth, or are menstruating.
3. Sanskrit name: Bhastrika
Informal name: Bellows Breath
Purpose: Increases energy; helps boost digestive power and metabolism; strengthens the nervous system.
How-to: Sit up straight and tall with shoulders relaxed. Take a few initial breaths in and out from your nose. Expand your belly fully on each inhale. Now exhale forcefully from your nose, then inhale forcefully, with each inhale-exhale lasting about one second. Make sure the breath is coming from your diaphragm. As your belly moves in and out, keep the rest of your body still. Complete 10 breaths the first time, take a short break, then increase to 20 and then 30 if you feel up to it.
Caution: If Bellows Breath causes you to feel lightheaded, take a break until it passes, and if you resume, try breathing less forcefully with each inhale and exhale. Do not perform Bellows Breath too close to bedtime or your mind might be too active and energized to fall asleep.