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Pranayama: what it is and how to use it…

There’s been bit of a breath theme at the studio this week with a Transformational Breathing Workshop on Saturday and one of my clients asking about all the different ‘types’ of breathing we practice in yoga, so it started me thinking more about the way we use the breath in our Yoga practice.  Breathwork or ‘pranayama’ is one of the golden keys to a truly beneficial practice.

At the beginning of my classes we spend a good few minutes getting connecting to the breath and how it feels in the body, we do a bit of deep abdominal breathing, maybe some full yogic breath, ujjayi and in the Summer I might do an introduction to a ‘Sheetali’ breath.

Why do we do this? Because breathing in the right way improves your practice, just the same as if you want to be a better runner or swimmer you use the breath in the right way to improve your technique. The practice of pranayama, the translation of which is breath control, extends beyond the Yoga mat though. Regular pranayama practice can restore balance in the body and mind and improve and maintain good health by clearing blocked energy channels and when combined with our asana sends oxygen around the body nourishing our muscles, organs and the subtle layers of our being. It is believed that regular practice improves our bodies overall functioning while releasing stress and improving immunity.

Learning how to breathe correctly is a skill so learning these techniques in class is always a good idea but here’s a quick overview of the main pranayama techniques and their benefits.

  • Bhramari pranayama – Known as ‘humming bee breath’ is a great technique for releasing anger, frustration and calming the mind. Also practiced in prenatal Yoga as a sound massage for baby and as a technique to calm babies after birth.
  • Nadi Shodhana pranayama – To most of us ‘alternate nostril breathing’, purifies the body and mind and balances the left and right sides of the brain
  • Kapalabhati pranayama – Breath of fire, the passive inhale and active exhale cures stomach and digestive orders. And goodness, if you are looking for some fire in your practice this is a great one to learn
  • Ujjayi pranayama – Used during dynamic yoga practice this breath regulates the heat of the body and generates internal body heat with a purifying and detoxifying effect.
  • Sheetali pranayama – the cooling breath, cools the body temperature, calms the mind, reduces stress and the lessens the fight or flight response.

Come to a class and get your pranayama on!

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