Best Breath Practices: 5 Energizing Pranayama Techniques.
Each breath in is a new chance to let Life flow through you, to let go of resistance to the moment, to cultivate compassion for yourself and others.
As the SNL character Stuart Smalley affirms, “You are good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”
Each breath is a new chance to practice loving kindness, trusting the universe, service to the Earth and all its inhabitants.
The importance of the breath, in yoga and in life, cannot be overstated.
These five basic breath exercises are guaranteed to give you a nice, natural yoga buzz.
1. Alternate Nostril Breath
My absolute favorite form of pranayama (breath control) is Alternate Nostril Breathing. It’s simple to do and in just a few moments can completely calm and balance the monkey mind.
Alternate Nostril Breathing is traditionally done in a seated, cross-legged meditation posture, though it’s fine to sit in a chair if you’re not comfortable on the floor. In either case, sit up with a tall spine and relaxed face and shoulders.
The mudra (hand position) is done with the right hand. Fold the index finger and middle finger down to touch the palm. Begin with the thumb lightly closing your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, to the count of four, six or eight. Hold the breath in for four, six or eight seconds. Then, lightly close your left nostril with your ring finger and release the thumb from your right nostril. Exhale through the right side. Inhale again through the right side. Retain the breath here in the middle only if you feel comfortable doing so. Exhale through the left.
That is one cycle.
To summarize: inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. Optionally retain the inbreath in and the outbreath out. Continue for five cycles or more. You can work up to doing this breath exercise for five or more minutes at a time.
Alternate Nostril Breathing works like a charm to clear and calm the mind. It’s a terrific technique to incorporate at the beginning and/or end of your yoga session.
2. Bumblebee Breath
Use your fingertips to lightly cover your closed eyelids. Using your thumbs, close your ears. Inhale deeply through the nose and as you exhale, let out a long, low humming sound. With the eyes and ears closed, the hum will reverberate in your head and sound like a buzzing bee. Repeat three, four, or more times.
As you do this breath exercise, bring your inner gaze to the third eye, the point between your eyebrows. The Bumblebee Breath is purported to calm the mind and inspire new creative ideas.
Next time you are feeling overstimulated or uninspired, give it a shot.
3. Dog Breath (a.k.a. Breath of Fire)
You need to get in touch with your inner child for this one. (It’s great for kids yoga, as is Bumblebee Breath.) For Dog Breath, pant like a dog, first through the open mouth. Then, close your mouth and continue the panting breath through the nose. Do two sets of thirty seconds each, pausing between the sets and taking deep breaths. This technique brings oxygen to the brain and help you wake up and feel more alert.
4. Ocean Breath
“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”
~ Alan Watts
Ocean breath is super simple and calming yet energizing. Take deep, slow, long, active inhales and let the exhale out naturally and passively. Close your eyes and notice how this creates a sound like the waves in the ocean.
5. Just Sit
“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are “just sitting.” To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”
~ Natalie Goldberg
Simple breath awareness is an excellent meditation technique. As you breathe consciously through the nose, recall that this magnificent function has been with you since the moment of your birth and will be with you until your final exhale of this precious life.