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3 Breathing Practices that Will Revolutionize Your Life

March 9, 2014

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The practice of yoga aims to harness prana, our essential life-force, through various techniques. Pranayama is one of these techniques, using breath to harness the power of prana. Pranayama has been used for thousands of years to energize, calm, and invigorate the body and mind, benefits you can tap into with some key techniques and regular practice. It can be difficult to master, but it’s accessible to everybody with a bit of dedication. And with physical well-being, mental clarity, stress relief, and weight loss among its many benefits, there are some powerful incentives to work at it!

Before trying out the 3 pranayama techniques listed below, go through this checklist of key things to keep in mind in your practice:

  • Quiet your upper body. In times of stress, your chest tends to heave and your muscles tighten in your shoulders and neck area. Before you begin pranayama, relax your jaw, throat, and neck. Roll your shoulders to release any tension. Picture your inhalations sweeping freely through your body.
  • Get to know your breath. During pranayama, your breathing will speed up or slow down depending on the technique, but before you begin, take some time to rest with the sound of your natural breath. If it is uneven or jagged, smooth it out. Match your breathing to an image of rolling waves or the sound of a lullaby.
  • Exhale longer. To relax more fully, make your exhale twice as long as your inhale by gently extending each exhalation by one or two seconds.
  • Pause after exhaling. Linger in the moment when all the oxygen-poor air is released from your lungs. This one moment of profound stillness can be satisfying on many levels.
  • Breathe like a baby. Watch the way babies breathe in their sleep. Their little bellies swell up, their shoulders move, their spines flex. Involve your whole body in your breathing, letting it become a full body massage.

3 Essential Pranayama Techniques

1. Bhastrika: The Bellows Breath

Goal: To Energize

Just as bellows stoke a fire, this practice will clear out cloudy thinking, stimulate circulation, regulate your digestion, and speed up your metabolism. Do not practice this technique close to bedtime, as its energizing effect will make it difficult to fall asleep. Start by exhaling forcefully and then inhaling deeply. Spend about one second on each. Breathe entirely from your diaphragm, without moving your chest. After 20 seconds, take a slow, deep breath. Hold it as long as you can do so comfortably and let it out. Repeat 4 times.

2. Nadhi Shodhana: The Purifying Channel

Goal: To Relax

This pranayama involves breathing through alternate nostrils. This is one of the best breathing practices to relax your body before meditation, but also can be done anytime to eliminate stress, such as before an important meeting or after an upsetting encounter. Place your thumb gently on your right nostril and inhale only through your left. At the end of the inhalation, close your left nostril with your ring fingers and open your right nostril, exhaling slowly. Then inhale through the right and at the end of the inhalation, close your right nostril with your thumb again and exhale through the left. This completes the first cycle. Repeat the practice 5 times.

3. Deerga Swasam: The Three-Part Breath

Goal: To Cleanse Your System

You will be cleansing your entire body by focusing on your abdomen, your diaphragm, and your chest, in that order. Breathe in slowly and deeply, first filling your belly, then your ribcage, and finally the top of your lungs. Exhale slowly, reversing the order. The longer your exhale, the more effective it will be. Continue for 5 minutes. This simple practice will bring you 7 times more oxygen than normal breathing. It is the best way to detoxify the cells in your body quickly.

Have you found breathing techniques to be helpful in your life? Let us know in the comments below!