Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. In yoga, the breath plays a very important role in helping you feel calm and relaxed. All yoga breathing exercises involve breathing through your nose while keeping your mouth closed. The different kinds of yoga breathing exercises help you to focus and think more clearly.
Abdominal breathing involves breathing fully through your stomach. When you inhale, your stomach should expand. When you exhale, your stomach should fall back down naturally. Due to stress, many peoples’ breathing patterns are the opposite. If you notice that your stomach contracts when you inhale, you can practice abdominal breathing by lying on your back. Place your hands on your stomach to feel which way it is going while you breathe. Make full use of your diaphragm when you breathe by drawing air into the lowest part of your lungs. To do this, breathe slowly and deeply.
Full Yogic Breath
You can practice full yogic breathing by sitting in a cross-legged position and placing one hand on your abdomen and the other on your ribs right underneath your chest. First draw air into the lowest part of your lungs, by your diaphragm (near your lower abdominal muscles). Then expand your intercostal muscles (those located at the middle of your torso, right under your chest) as you breathe into the middle part of your lungs. Lastly, expand the upper part of your chest, by your collar bone. As you exhale, feel air leaving your abdomen first, then the middle of your torso and finally the top of your torso.
Anuloma Viloma is also called “alternate nostril breathing.” It cleanses and strengthens your lungs and respiratory system. This exercise also balances both hemispheres of your brain. To practice this exercise, first fold down the index and middle fingers of your right hand. Then close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale completely through your left nostril. Next inhale completely through your left nostril, keeping the right nostril closed. Inhale for four counts. Then close off your left nostril with the end fingers of your right hand, releasing your thumb from your right nostril. Exhale for eight counts through your right nostril. With the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril. Then release your fingers from your left nostril as you block off the right nostril with your thumb. Exhale through your left nostril. This completes one round. You can do five to seven rounds of Anuloma Viloma.
Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise that cleanses your nasal passage, lungs and your entire respiratory system. It helps strengthen your lungs and stomach muscles. In this exercise, you take passive inhalations followed by forceful exhalations. You can practice Kapalabhati by contracting your abdominal muscles quickly as you exhale rapidly through your nose. It is a good idea to learn this exercise from a yoga instructor before trying to practice it independently.
- Yoga Journal: Breathing Lessons
- Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Manual; Swami Vishnu-Devananda; 2000