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Some people call yoga origami for the body. As we move through various shapes in a formal way, we are able to create an origami cup with our bodies; a cup that is folded so intentionally, so well, that it can then be filled with the water of our breath. And that’s where pranayama comes in.
The word pranayama means, “control of breath.” There are many benefits of pranayama which are often seen and felt when combined with an asana practice. We use our asana practice to get our physical bodies ready to be filled with air, and to get our minds in a space that can engage with the challenges that come with a breath practice.
There are many different types of breathing that we practice in pranayama. Some of the most common are Ujjayi, Alternate Nostril Breathing, and Kapalabhati. No type of pranayama breath is better than another but rather, they all have a different purpose.
For example, Ujjayi breathing calms our nervous system and helps with concentration (especially when added to a physical asana practice). To practice Ujjayi breath, create a restriction in the back of your throat as if you were breathing through the circumference of a straw. Then inhale and exhale through your nose at a slow, rhythmic pace.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is another type of pranayama that is calming to our nervous system, and it also lowers our heart rate and stress levels. To practice alternate nostril breathing, begin by placing your right middle finger on your third eye (the space between your eyebrows). Then use your thumb to plug your right nostril. Breath in through your left nostril. Plug your left nostril with your ring finger, and breath out through your right nostril. Breath in through your right nostril. Cover your right nostril with your thumb, and breath out through your left nostril. And continue.
Kapalabhati breath is a very different type of pranayama that is also known as, “skull-shining breath.” In a Kapalabhati breath practice, we alternate between short, forceful exhales and passive inhales (all through the nose). Some of the benefits of Kapalabhati breathing include increasing blood flow to the stomach, pancreas, and liver, improving digestion, strengthening the lungs and overall respiratory function, and energizing the body.
These are just a few of the many types of pranayama. If you’re interested in starting a regular pranayama practice, we suggest that you start small! For example, make it a goal to include 100 Kapalabhati breaths in every one of your asana practices. This is a simple way to start incorporating this important practice into your life so that you can begin to reap the benefits of controlled breathing.
This article was written by Haley Lovejoy of A.G.A.P.E. Wellness
Photo Cred: Amelia Bartlett