I often say to apprehensive yoga students, “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.” And it’s true. I have taken classes that were 60 minutes of different breathwork all in the same seated position. And if you think that sounds easy, try it. It is the most challenging act to focus internally for so long.
Breathing is the most important part of any practice. It is the basis upon which your movement works. It is the constant that stays with you in every pose.
Here are a few different kinds of breaths that will enhance your practice:
- Ujjayi: the Darth Vader ocean whisper breath that is created when you breathe with the same muscles you use to whisper. Uses your entire lung capacity, lengthening your breath and slowing you down. Builds a gentle heat and creates focus.
- Uddiyana and Agni Sara: types of purification techniques used to strengthen abdominal muscles, improve digestion, and massage out the stuck energy that lives in your belly. Involves holding the breath and moving the belly around with stomach muscles. Great for blood flow!
- Kapalabhati: also known as the fire breath because it creates heat in the belly. Fast and forceful exhales through the nose with a passive inhale (like blowing your nose into a tissue quickly.) Usually done around 80-100 times in a cycle of three or more.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: the thumb and ring finger block off sides of the nose while inhaling and exhaling through alternating nostrils. Turns an imbalance in the brain or in energy into balance and harmony. Usually makes students feel calm.
- Sitali: cools the body down. Slows down the breath. The curling of the tongue makes a hollow for the inhale to move through. Good for practicing long inhales and filling up the lungs to their incredible capacity.
- Brahmari: the buzzing bee breath. Formed by humming loudly at any note. Fills up the body with sound. Good for practicing long exhales. Helps the student recognize and hear all the actions the body performs to make sound.
- Sivananda: teaches the body control of the breath. Usually used with counting. For example: inhale for a count of 5, hold the breath for a count of 8, exhale for a count of 5, hold the breath out for a count of 8.