Practices of Pranayama: 6 Yogic Breathing Techniques
Our ten-day lab test in the yogic practices of pranayama gave us far more than we bargained for. It didn’t just clean us out and give us a bit of a mental lift, it made us fitter, better connected and even did things in our pants. Fruity. Read about our results here.
Pranayama can be a stand-alone practice, or it can be used pre-meditation as part of your daily yoga. It means you start your day from a place of self-care, consciousness and gratitude for the very air you breathe. In this article, we share the sequence that we experimented with for our test. Go on, grab a tissue, get your props and breathe, brothers.
For Your Pranayama, You Will Need
If you intend to complete all of the practices, there are one or two things you’ll need to set yourself up.
- Turmeric root
- Neti pot
- Non-iodized salt
- Blankets, bolsters, mats and cushions for sitting
Preparing for a Yogic Breathing Practice
All of the practices we’ve detailed below should take a total of around one hour. Try one, try two, try a few, or go the whole hog and do a ten-day experiment with all of them like us. They’re not for a full stomach, so wait at least two hours after eating before trying them out, or you’ll be making yourself sick. We find the morning is best, straight after getting up.
The info we’re offering is simply a guide based on our experiment, so remember, you need to listen to your own body. There’s plenty of sitting involved, which we know you guys can hate, so get your props out to sit comfortably. Some of the practices can make you a little dizzy so just be aware of that when you’re huffing and puffing away.
Turmeric contains curcumin which is a very powerful anti-inflammatory and a strong antioxidant. We prepare for our morning pranayama with a hot, turmeric tea. We wash, peel and chop a finger of turmeric root and add it to a cup of hot water. It soothes, warms, hydrates and gently wakes the body with a good intention for the day. These little habits can make all the difference. Drink the turmeric tea whilst you prepare your neti pot. When you start shoving a neti pot in your snout, your girlfriend is gonna think you’ve lost the plot.
Nasal cleansing is a common yogic practice in India and is something you can try to get the very best from your pranayama. Be aware, you will look silly doing it. Just go with it. It’s good advice to always keep your neti pot clean and dry when you’re not using it, nobody wants germs. Add ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt (iodine can irritate) to clean, boiled and partially cooled water. Fill your neti pot and get to the sink.
Tilt your head with your ear toward the basin and insert the spout into your nose. Find the perfect angle where the warm water in your neti pot can run in through one nostril and out through the other. It’s an uncomfortable and unnatural feeling at first, but you’ll get used to it in time. And so will your girlfriend. The sensation of clarity, freshness and ease of breathing after you’ve rinsed your naval cavity, loosened what needs to loosen, and blown your nose, is quite something. You’ll realise what a joy it is to breathe. Once you’ve done a couple of cleansing rinses through your nose, you’ll be ready to start your practices of pranayama.
Yogic Breathing Technique 1: Kapalabhati
Duration: 3 round of 2 minutes
Benefits: energising and cleansing
Also called the shiny skull breath, this energising practice is a series of quick and forceful exhalations through the nose with a passive inhalation. You’re literally blowing the cobwebs out of your beak, and you’ll realise thirty seconds in why you needed that tissue. As you inhale, draw your navel towards your spine, engaging your core. The passive inhale is just that. Don’t be tempted to breathe in quickly after breathing out, just let the air flow back in as it wants to.
We completed three rounds of two minutes for our experiment, setting a timer on our phone. You might want to start with less and build up. After each round, take a good, long, deep inhale and hold it in for a count of ten, whilst engaging maha bandha. After holding the breath for ten, release the locks and breath out super slow over a ten count. Pause inside your experience for a moment, notice any shifts, and then prepare for round two.
Yogic Breathing Technique 2: Bhastrika
Duration: 6 rounds of 10 breaths
Benefits: vitalising, invigorating and good for digestion
The bellows breath, or bhastrika, is all about getting as much air into your lungs as possible, as quickly as possible, and then expelling it with the same speed. It’s a vigorous, heating and energising practice that will vitalise, bring the power and boost your aliveness. It gets your internal organs warmed and massaged so is great for digestion. Try it in the morning, during a mid-day slump or whenever you want to invigorate. Ditch the caffeine and try it instead of a cuppa.
As a guide, each inhale and each exhale should last about one second each. We found that placing our hands on the outside of our rib cage helped to draw attention to the rapid expansion and contraction of our abdomen, which is needed to get air in and out with real gusto. Use your full lungs, from deep down low in your belly, right up to your collar bones. Get it all in. Everything. Then get it all out. We completed ten breaths at a time and six rounds of ten breaths in total for our test. Listen to your own body to feel where your comfortable limit is. And don’t be passing out on us.
Yogic Breathing Technique 3: Agnisara
Duration: 5 rounds of 1 breath
Benefits: immunity-boosting, stimulating for digestion and core definition and control
Stimulate your immune system, increase your power of digestion and strengthen your abdominal muscles with this internal massage. Agnisara combines the breath with a deep activation of the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor.
To begin, stand with your legs comfortably apart. Bend your knees and support your torso with your hands on your thighs. Find a neutral position for your spine. You don’t want your tailbone too tucked, and you don’t want your back arching. Find somewhere in the middle with a nice straight spine. Exhale fully to the very end of your breath and draw your abdominal muscles towards your spine, completely contracting your abdominals as deeply as possible. Now, whilst holding your breath out, move your abdominal muscles in and out quickly, massaging your intestines. You might feel very silly at this point. We did. Do this until you need to breathe in. Give yourself a little break and then get ready for round 2. We completed five rounds in total.
Yogic Breathing Technique 4: Nadi Shodhonar
Duration: 3 rounds of 2 minutes
Benefits: calming, focussing and balancing
Calming and balancing the mind, nadi shodhonar is an alternate nostril breathing meditation that will bring you to centre and draw attention to any subtle blockages you might have. It’s a little bit tricky to get the hang of at first, so read this carefully.
In a seated position, bring your middle finger and the index finger of your right hand to your third eye and use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale for a count of four through your left nostril. Hold for a count of four with a full breath. Use the third finger of your right hand to close your left nostril, release the thumb, and breathe out through your right nostril for a count of eight. Hold, empty of breath, for a count of four, then breathe in through the right nostril for a count of four. Hold for four and then breath out through the left nostril for a count of eight, using your thumb and third finger to close and open the nostrils accordingly. Keep within this cyclical breathing technique for two minutes and complete three rounds of two minutes.
Yogic Breathing Technique 5: Bhramari
Duration: 6 rounds of 1 long breath
Benefits: re-setting, clearing and de-stressing
This one will make you look like a real space-cake. Clear out the clutter of a busy mind very quickly with the breath of the honey bee. Make an ‘om’ sound with your mouth closed to send vibrations through your head and chest. Do it in a seated position with your eyes closed and don’t be scared to make a decent volume of noise. Prolong the ‘om’ for as long as your outward breath will allow, without leaving you gasping for breath.
For additional benefits, try the practice with shanmukhi mudra, where your thumbs are in your ears and your fingers find light pressure points on your face or head to transmit vibrations. We practiced 6 rounds of bhramari in our ten-day test.
Yogic Breathing Technique 6: Shitali
Duration: 5 rounds of 1 long inhalation
Benefits: cooling of mind and body
This very simple technique is reported to cool the mind, the body and emotions. It certainly feels cooling when you practice. Try it. Get comfortable in a sitting position with a straight back. Roll the outward edges of the tongue to form a tube and inhale through it as if you’re drinking through a straw. Aim to make the inhalation last around four seconds, or longer if you can. You’ll notice a sensation of evaporative cooling on your tongue. At the top of the breath, hold for a moment and then release and breathe slowly and steadily out through the nostrils. This completes one round and we completed five rounds for our experiment.
Duration: 10 minutes minimum
Benefits: de-cluttering, calming and sensitising
Find a seated position with your hips higher than your knees. This will help the blood flow to your lower limbs and will reduce the possibility of dead legs. Men often find sitting to meditate harder than women, due to less flexibility in the hips, so give yourself a fighting chance to sit comfortably with some props. If you need a decent, thick bolster, a cushion or a rolled blanket to raise your buttocks, then get prepared. This slightly elevated position will also reduce tension through the lower back and help you to keep an upright spine without any rounding. Either sit on a padded mat or slip some padding under the knees. Getting comfortable in a seated meditation is so utterly important and can mean the difference between a distracted sit and a deep mediation.
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