Best Breath Practices: 5 Energizing Pranayama Techniques.

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Each breath in is a new chance to let Life flow through you, to let go of resistance to the moment, to cultivate compassion for yourself and others.

As the SNL character Stuart Smalley affirms, “You are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”

Each breath is a new chance to practice loving kindness, trusting the universe, service to the Earth and all its inhabitants.

The importance of the breath, in yoga and in life, cannot be overstated.

These five basic breath exercises are guaranteed to give you a nice, natural yoga buzz.

1. Alternate Nostril Breath

My absolute favorite form of pranayama (breath control) is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It’s simple to do and in just a few moments can completely calm and balance the monkey mind.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is traditionally done in a seated, cross-legged meditation posture, though it’s fine to sit in a chair if you’re not comfortable on the floor. In either case, sit up with a tall spine and relaxed face and shoulders.

The mudra (hand position) is done with the right hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm. Begin with the thumb lightly closing your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, to the count of four, six or eight. Hold the breath in for four, six or eight seconds. Then, lightly close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Retain the breath here in the middle only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left.

That is one cycle.

To summarize: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Optionally retain the inbreath in and the outbreath out. Continue for five cycles or more. You can work up to doing this breath exercise for five or more minutes at a time.

Alternate Nostril Breathing works like a charm to clear and calm the mind. It’s a terrific technique to incorporate at the beginning and/or end of your yoga session.

2. Bumblebee Breath

Use your fingertips to lightly cover your closed eyelids. Using your thumbs, close your ears. Inhale deeply through the nose and as you exhale, let out a long, low humming sound. With the eyes and ears closed, the hum will reverberate in your head and sound like a buzzing bee. Repeat three, four, or more times.

As you do this breath exercise, bring your inner gaze to the third eye, the point between your eyebrows. The Bumblebee Breath is purported to calm the mind and inspire new creative ideas.

Next time you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired, give it a shot.

3. Dog Breath (a.k.a. Breath of Fire)

You need to get in touch with your inner child for this one. (It’s great for kids yoga, as is Bumblebee Breath.) For Dog Breath, pant like a dog, first through the open mouth. Then, close your mouth and continue the panting breath through the nose. Do two sets of thirty seconds each, pausing between the sets and taking deep breaths. This technique brings oxygen to the brain and help you wake up and feel more alert.

4. Ocean Breath

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”

~ Alan Watts 

Ocean breath is super simple and calming yet energizing. Take deep, slow, long, active inhales and let the exhale out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean.

5. Just Sit

“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are “just sitting.” To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”

~ Natalie Goldberg

Simple breath awareness is an excellent meditation technique.  As you breathe consciously through the nose, recall that this magnificent function has been with you since the moment of your birth and will be with you until your final exhale of this precious life.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a yogi, writer and teacher. Hers is the mind behind Yoga Freedom. Hailing from Austin, Texas, her home base since 2012 has been Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan highlands where she lives with her husband, daughter and fur family. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has also self-published several inspiring books. Michelle's practice style incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma/Buddhist teachings, pranayama/breathwork, yin, mindfulness, chakra balancing, mantra and meditation. Go on retreat with Michelle in Guatemala!


16 Responses to “Best Breath Practices: 5 Energizing Pranayama Techniques.”

  1. @MaxZografos says:

    Thanks, this is a great reminder of the wealths of Pranayama. Would you advise a practitioner to perform all those and if yes, in any particular order?

    • yoga freedom says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Max. I think all five of these breath exercises are advisable for beginners, in any order. It's always good to have a teacher (or at least a book or video) if you need more guidance.

  2. Rogelio Nunez says:

    Pranayam has become just as important as Asana practice now….it makes my day go alot smoother… get a teacher first, its a subtle but powerful practice….start simple and don't force it….its not like asana where there is struggling at first….
    light on pranayama is a great book, BKS Iyengar….but go to a teacher first….

  3. Katrina Kunstmann says:

    Alan Watts inclusion gets a triple love bonus in my book. :>

  4. Gabriela says:

    If you want to read about pranayama in detail, read BKS Iyengar's Light on Pranamaya where you can read about many more breathing practices, in detail. You can download the book from the internet, or at lease you could, at one point. How lucky we are, to live in a world where access to information is just at our fingertips…

  5. Courtney says:

    I heartily second the advice of doing this under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. It can be a very powerful practice, and there are possible medical and mood/emotional considerations regarding ratio of inhale to exhale, etc. Another good resource for information on pranayama is Gary Kraftsow's "Yoga for Transformation" — highly accessible, practical and useful.

  6. Chris says:

    Hi Michelle, thanks for this nice little summary to get people started. Breath of Fire, however, is often misunderstood. It doesn’t bring oxygen to the brain – it is hyperventilation and science can show that it actually prevents oxygen reaching the brain and cells. The critical action when doing breath of fire or any hyperventilation exercise is to balance it with hypoventilation (less breathing). This is how oxygen gets to our brain. It’s called the Bohr Effect or the Haldane Effect. Typically, hypoventilation in a hatha yoga class is performed automatically during meditation and savasana. It’s also why many students require a long savasana (to balance all the hyperventilation during the posture practice!).

    • Laura says:

      Yes Chris–thanks for bringing this up. It's news to a lot of yoga teachers, who may have been taught that fast breathing brings more oxygen into the body. I have a lot of issues with William Broad's book <The Science of Yoga>, but he does do a good job of covering the science behind this aspect of breathing (hyperventilation). As an RN and yoga teacher, I think it's important that yoga teachers investigate what they've been taught about pranayama vs what actually takes place in the process of respiration.

  7. ninnybabar says:

    what is ocean breath is this one is also good how we can justify that

  8. Parmod Kumar says:

    Thanks for these Pranayama techniques. Very helpful!

  9. Stacy Porter says:

    I didn't know all of these. Thank you for sharing <3

  10. Milap says:

    The most simple pranyama one can do is Om chanting.Or om breathing.Don’t have to bother about inhalation exhale retain ventilation etc……

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