Updated: Mar 24
“Take a deep breath in and exhale” it’s a phrase I’ve probably said a million times when teaching yoga (or maybe even more, LOL). The breath is a key component of the yoga practice and of your life too (no breath, no life!).
Prana is the Sanskrit name for breath and it’s also translated as life force.
Let me give you an example where you worked with prana...I’m sure at least once in your life you went to a yoga class feeling rubbish - i.e lethargic, angry or stressed out. I'm positive that at the end of the class you felt better than when you started. Why?
You moved prana!
By consciously moving and breathing you circulate prana as well as blood and lymphatic fluids (which helps to eliminate toxins and to support your immune system). You basically shake it all up!
I like to think a yoga practice is like shaking a snow globe and then let it rest. You first move energy through the body, then you rest in savasana and you let the magic happens! By allowing your body to integrate and to re-organise prana by being still, you create a physical, mental and emotional shift!
Pranayamas are a set of techniques to accumulate, expand and move prana in your body. There are different types of pranayamas that you can use to feel GOOD. Choose the best for you depending on what’s the shift you want to create in your physical, mental or emotional state. Let’s go!
TYPE #1 - ENERGISING
Some of these breathing techniques are strong and powerful like a storm in the ocean. The most popular is Kapalabhati (which translates as “shining skull”). Kapalabhati “wakes you up” from the inside out and it cleanses the whole respiratory system.
Another very popular one is Ujjiai (or victorious breath). You can watch this tutorial to learn how it’s done. Ujjiai generates heat in the body and brings mental clarity and focus.
Because of the nature of these breaths it’s better to avoid them before going to sleep! They are great though to combat fatigue and lethargy
TYPE #2 - CALMING
These breaths are great when you feel anxious or stressed. The first technique is to extend your exhalations. Breathe in for 4 counts and exhale for 6 counts. Repeat for 3-5mins and you should already feel a difference.
Another pranayama I really like and that I personally used when I was suffering from insomnia is the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale for 4 counts, hold the breath for 7 counts and exhale for 8 counts by pursing your lips and making a “whoosh” sound. Repeat the whole cycle 4 times. If you do it more you might feel lightheaded. I experienced almost immediate results by practicing this breath, but everyone is different so if you don't feel any immediate benefits, keep doing it for a few days / weeks before to judge if it isn't for you.
These breathing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers the relaxation response. When you relax, the blood pressure & heart beat lower and your body can redirect energies to your digestive, reproductive systems and to repairing tissues.
TYPE #3 BALANCING
Your body wants to be in a state of homeostasis. At any given point in time it will do anything, I mean ANYTHING to bring you back to balance. These pranayamas are ideal when you feel a little bit off, away from your mental and emotional centre.
In the Coherent breath, the inhalations and the exhalations are equal length. Start by inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 4 counts. When you feel confident, you can increase to 5 and then 6 counts. Scientific research shows that the optimal breathing ratio for health is 5.5 (meaning 5.5 secs to inhale and 5.5 secs to exhale).
The second balancing pranayama is Nadi Shodhana (also called alternate nostril breathing). You can watch this tutorial to learn how to do it. Nadi Shodhana is balancing both sides of the brain and it’s very soothing. Another one very good for insomnia!
Here you have it!
Thanks for reading until the end.
If you’re interested in this topic and you want to know more, you should join me for the Saturday Sisterhood Circle on the 27th March. I’ll explain a little more about the anatomy of breath and teach you in more details 4 pranayama techniques and their health benefits.
I look forward to seeing you!
Be WILD, be YOU