What Is Pranayama Breath?

what is pranayama breath

Breathing is an essential part of our existence. Without pumping air into our lungs, we cannot survive. 

The breath is also an important part of any exercise, to help with recovery and pain release from the muscles, as well as during yoga. 

SO important during yoga! It’s the most distinctive and crucial part of yoga, as, through controlled breaths, long, deep breathing, our mind, body and soul begin to relax and we start to feel refreshed. 

Pranayama breath is a method of controlled breathing, which has a spiritual connection, as well as one with our ancestors. It’s a form of breath regulation. 

Pranayama consists of 2 separate words – “prana” which means “life energy” in Sanskrit, and “Yama” which means control. 

It’s rather nice to think of our breath as life energy because when you think about it, it really is the best form of energy there is. It’s so indicative of our wellbeing and feelings too. When we’re stressed, we forget to breathe – focusing our energy on the situation rather than the bigger picture of life. 

When we’re laughing, we take deep breaths to continue laughing, pumping our lungs and brain with more oxygen. 

When we cry, we get in a state that sometimes makes it hard to breathe so we take short, quick breaths, until we eventually take a long deep breath to calm down and stop the tears. 

Whatever our situation or feelings, our breath as a force of energy, is always there with us – even when we don’t notice it. 

What is Pranayama Breath

Pranayama breath is a set of controlled, breathing exercises in different patterns, paces and with intervals. It’s all about inhaling, exhaling and holding your breath, all in a specific way and for a controlled amount of time. 

Pranayama breath helps with mental and emotional wellbeing while also having positive therapeutic effects on your mind, body and soul. 

Pranayama breathing is usually done through breathing in and out, through your nose. Breathing through the nose invites a deeper diaphragmatic breath, as it uses more of your diaphragm and brings more oxygen into your body. 

what is pranayama breath

What Are the Types of Pranayama Breath?

There are various different techniques of pranayama breath, 6 of the most popular pranayama breaths are: 

  • Nadishodhana – alternate nostril breathing
  • Ujjayi – victorious breath
  • Bhramari – female honeybee humming breath
  • Bhastrika – bellows breath
  • Box breathing
  • Dirga Pranayama – Three Part Breath

How to do Pranayama Breathing? 

It depends on which one of the types of pranayama breaths you’d like to try. I will list below some of the more common and easier types of pranayama breathing techniques below so you can try them as a beginner: 

Box Breathing 

This is really simple: 

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds
  2. Hold for 4 seconds
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds
  4. Hold for 4 seconds 

Easy peasy. It’s a technique you can try throughout the day when you start to notice that you’re getting stressed or nervous. You can do it sitting at your desk at work! 

It’s an easy technique and really great at calming down. You can do it for as long as you like, so the number of sets of breathing you do or how long for, really depends on how you feel and how much time you have. 

You can keep it going for 2-3 sets, or 10 minutes. Entirely up to you! 

Nadi Shodhana

This is one of the most popular and well-known types of pranayama breathing. It’s when you control your breathing through one nostril while blocking the other with your finger and then switch to breath through the other nostril. 

Seems strange? It actually provides a lot of benefits – it can clear and balance respiratory channels, relieve stress and anxiety, and provide a balancing effect to the body’s and mind’s energies.

Here’s how you do it: 

  1. Sit in a comfortable position
  2. Raise your right hand and put your pointing and middle finger between the eyebrows.
  3. Take a deep breath. 
  4. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale. 
  5. Before you exhale, put your right ring finger on your left nostril to close it, opening the right nostril, and now exhale 
  6. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and release the right ring finger from the left nostril and exhale. 
  7. Close the left nostril with the right ring finger release the right thumb from the right nostril and exhale. 
  8. Repeat 5-10 times or more if you like
what is pranayama breath

How to Do Bhastrika Breathing

Bhastrika breathing can provide a boost of good energy and help you feel more energetic and less sluggish! Bhastrika breathing is also known as Bellows Breath and helps to bring back the life force energy within you. The key to this practice is breathing through and into your belly, rather than your chest or lungs. 

Here’s how you do it: 

  1. Sit up tall, drop the shoulders. 
  2. Take a few deep breaths through your nose, inhaling into your belly 
  3. Exhale forcefully through your nose, into your belly 
  4. Inhale forcefully for 1 second per each cycle, and exhale forcefully for 1 second
  5. Repeat the cycle 5 to 10 minutes, or as long as you like
what is pranayama breath

Bhramari Breathing

Bhramari helps release the tension from the mind helping you relax release any anxiety or frustration. The name, “bhramari” comes from a black Indian bee, as the practice involved making a sound in your ear, like a bee. Ok I know what you’re thinking – the method makes a lot more sense when you try it.  

Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Sit up straight with your eyes closed
  2. Relax your face, mouth, eyebrows
  3. Sit still for a while, observing your breath, groundness and any other sensations in your body
  4. Place your index fingers on your ears. There is a cartilage between your cheek and ear. Place your index fingers on the cartilage
  5. Take a deep breath in 
  6. Now breathe out, gently pressing the cartilage. You have 2 options now: a) can keep the cartilage pressed; or b) press it in and out with your fingers, this will make a humming sound in your ears, like a bee
  7. Repeat the cycle for 3-4 times or as long as you like!

What Does Pranayama Breathing Do

Pranayama breathing brings a lot of benefits to our overall wellbeing, and helps particularly when we’re stressed, nervous or feel anxious. Deep, long breaths help us to relax, sending signal to our brain that we’re okay. 

When under stress our body sends signals to the brain to activate the fight or flight response, which can raise our adrenaline levels and make our breathing faster, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. 

Taking control of our breath helps to make us feel calmer, more relaxed. Breathwork for example, is another breathing technique which helps to dig deep into our body and release pent-up traumas from the past. 

You can read more about breathwork here

You will benefit from pranayama breathing exercises, in the following ways: 

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Awakened mindfulness
  • Better brain function 
  • Decreased cravings for tobacco/smoking 
  • Better quality sleep
  • Reduced stress
  • Better lung function 

After a pranayama breathing session, you might feel euphoric, relaxed, blissful and maybe even high or “drunk”. Not actually drunk, but the deep breaths and inhalation for a longer amount of time increase our circulation and blood supply to the brain. This can make us feel euphoric and almost drunk. 

Pranayama breath will help you feel relaxed, refreshed and reset – so it’s a particularly great practice after a long, stressful day. 

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