Breathing Techniques

Find out more about pranayama breathing and benefits here.

yoga, meditation, breathingFeeling the Breath (Anapanasati): Anapanasati, which means mindfulness of breathing, is a meditation aimed at calming and focusing the mind. This is a simple meditation taught by Buddha. It is simple and easy in that all you need is your breath. It can be done anywhere at anytime for any length of time desired.

How to Practice Feeling the Breath

First, get comfortable. Let your body become settled and relaxed. Tell your thoughts and concerns that everything is now as it should be. All is well and you will be taking time out from thinking for awhile.

Then, bring your attention to your breath. No need to change or manipulate your breath, just observe. Notice how it feels to your body as it’s coolness of the inhalation comes into the nostrils and through the throat. Feel the breath as the lungs and belly rise in fullness. As the breath leaves the body, notice each part of that experience as well. When the breath is long, notice that the breath is long. When the breath is short, notice that the breath is short. It is very simple.

If (and when) there are thoughts that glide into your mind, don’t get frustrated; this is a huge part of the practice. This is the time when you acknowledge them, and then gently turn the attention back to the physical sensations of the breath.

Each time you get distracted by thoughts, become aware of it, and come back to the breath, you are toning your meditation muscles. Sometimes thoughts will drift for a while before you recognize it. That’s ok. Just gently bring it back. You are overcoming the obstacles of mind chatter and placing yourself back on track. This can only be done successfully with love and compassion towards yourself. Over time your mind will thank you. It will become calmer and the experience of meditation will bring positive results.

Lengthening the breath: This method is another addition to Anapanasati meditation (feeling the breath). Try counting 1-2-3-4 as you slowly inhale, pause 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4, and empty hold 1-2-3-4. If you are comfortable with it, increase the number, lengthening the breath.

Here is a short video using this meditation technique.

 

 

meditation, counting the breathCounting the Breath: This technique is simply another way to settle the mind and to place attention with the breath. The act of counting can help hold the mind, Counting also makes it more noticeable when your mind has drifted into thought. This can be used as a calming introduction to a longer meditation period.

How to Practice Counting the Breath

First, get comfortable. Let your body become settled and relaxed. Tell your thoughts and concerns that everything is now as it should be. All is well and you will be taking time out from thinking for a while.

Then, begin to count each breath inhale 1- exhale 1, Inhale 2- exhale 2… up to 10 and then start over. Keep your attention on counting and feeling the sensations of the breath. When you get destracted and the mind drifts, just start again at 1. This practice increases your awareness, making you more mindful. It may be helpful to initially make the counting more complex in order to hold your attention. In that case you can go from 1 to 10 and then backwards from 10 to 1.

Eventually, with practice, the mind will require less complexity to focus. Then you may want to count once for a breath cycle (I inhale/exhale, 2 inhale/exhale…) Eventually, no counting will be necessary to hold your focus and you can just be with the breath.

 

breathing, meditation, three part breathThree-part Breath (Dirga Pranayama): this technique is often done at the beginning of a yoga class to center and prepare for asana practice and meditation. It is a simple technique that requires nothing but the breath. The “three parts” are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. This may also be referred to as the ‘full yogic breath’.

How to Practice Three-part Breath

To practice the three-part breath, you fill your lungs fully with air, as though you are breathing into your belly, then ribcage, and then upper chest. Exhale completely by reversing the flow.

Practicing Dirga Pranayama teaches us to breathe fully. Ineffective breathing is a common problem today, as well as poor posture and inactivity. Shallow breathing causes a lack of oxygen in the blood stream, which can create strain on the heart and lungs. Breathing deeply increases oxygen supply, which helps decrease stress and anxiety. Also, focusing on the body during three-part breath brings awareness to the present moment and calms the mind. Below is a video to guide you through this practice.

 

 

So Ham, So hum, meditationSo Ham Meditation (or So Hum) Meditation: This method is both simple and powerful. It uses both the breath and mantra repetition together. This has a calming effect on the mind and body and encourages a state of expanded consciousness, communion with the Divine.

The literal meaning of So Hum is “I am That.” It is interpreted to mean, “I am connected to all things” and “God is within”. This sacred mantra reminds us that we are spiritual beings, truly connected to all, including the Divine.

How to Practice So Ham Meditation

First, get settled and comfortable.
Begin by bringing your attention to the breath, noticing the feeling and the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation in and out through the nose.

Then begin to silently repeat “so” as you breathe in and “hum” as you breathe out. When your attention drifts, just draw the mind gently back to the breath and the mantra. Your breath will begin to slow down, joined with feelings of peacefulness and joy.

When you feel ready, you can begin to reflect on the meaning of the mantra, feeling the connectedness that comes with the breath – knowing you share the same breath, the same air with all people, creatures, and plants. The breath is given to you, it fills and nourishes you as you take it in. You then release the breath back to limitless space, again connecting you to “all that is.”

Below is a video to help with So Ham Meditation

 

 

Vishnu Mudra

Vishnu Mudra

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma): This is a calming breathing technique where you alternate inhaling and exhaling between each nostril. By practicing a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing each day, you can help restore balance to your brain, improve sleep, calm your emotions and nervous system. It is often used prior to deeper meditation to calm the mind. (This is not the practice to try if you have a cold or a sinus infection.)

We actually don’t breathe equally through our nostrils. The amount of airflow naturally shifts from one nostril to the next approximately every 2-3 hours. Right now, we are favoring either the left or the right nostril and are generally unaware of this naturally occurring process.

Breathing through the right nostril effects the left thinking/logical side of the brain. Breathing through the left nostril effects the feeling/emotional side of the brain. When we alternate breathing between the two nostrils, we bring balance to both sides.

How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing

1) First, get settled and comfortable in seated position, spine straight.

2) Place the left hand in the lap, palm up, bringing the thumb and pointer finger together.

3) Take your right hand, fold your pointer and middle fingers into your palm, leaving your thumb, ring, and pinky finger up. This is called Vishnu mudra (See picture above)

4) Bring your thumb to the right side of your nose and your ring finger to the left side. Let your pointer and middle finger rest on the forehead, between the eyes

5) Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out gently and slowly though the left nostril and then inhale through the left nostril.

6) Close your left nostril with your ring finger. Open and exhale through your right nostril and then inhale through your right nostril.

7) Close your right nostril with your thumb. Open and exhale through your left nostril and then inhale through your left nostril.

8) Continue for 5 to 10 rounds.

9) Once this is comfortable, you can lengthen the breath and add a short breath hold in between alternating breaths.

See video below to see how it’s done

 

 

ujjayi, ocean breathUjjayi Breath (Victorious or Ocean Breath): This calming breathing technique is often used during yoga and meditation to focus the mind. It is also a great way to calm yourself when feeling stressed or angry. I use this method to relax in bed if I am having trouble sleeping. It is like listening to the peaceful ocean waves. 

How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing

1) Take a deep inhalation through the nose. With mouth closed, exhale through your nose as you constrict the throat muscles. The exhale should sound like the ocean or Darth Vader from Star Wars.

2) Once you master this sound on exhalation, use the same method for inhalation, gently constricting your throat muscles while breathing in.  Below is a tutorial to follow.

 

 

kapalabhati, cleansing breath

Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati Cleansing Breath):(Also known as Skull Shining Breath) Consists of short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales.

Benefits: calms the mind, works respiratory system, clears respiratory passages, works abdominal muscles, improves blood circulation, increases lung capacity and respiratory efficiency, making more oxygen available to the body. Energizes, increases mental acuity.

How to Practice Breath of Fire

Sit with spine erect, cross legs in front of you. Inhale deeply and exhale quickly and suddenly, making a huffing sound. Focus on exhaling forcefully. On exhalation, draw abdominal muscles inward. Abdomen rises with inhale and folds inward with exhale. Focus on lower belly. If needed, hands together and press gently into lower belly. Continue for 10 breaths and then take a break. Gradually increase number of cycles you do each practice to 100 or more.

Contraindications: cardiac problems, hernia and spinal disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, ulcers severe respiratory infections, colds and nasal obstruction.
It is advised that you consult with your doctor and a qualified yoga instructor regarding this technique.
Below is a simple example to follow