If you’ve been practicing yoga for any amount of time, then you know that there is no end to what it can teach us, and somehow those new lessons seem to find us just at the right time.
Once you find that you have a firm grasp on asana, (like you have reached the space where you can walk into any class and know what the teacher is asking of you), then you find that new things begin to reveal themselves, with the goal to further your journey. These new things can range from new poses to new mats to new styles of yoga.
Well hold onto your pants yogis, because the next new thing is here, and it’s name is Pranayama.
Pranayama is, like all things in yoga, a Sanskrit word that roughly translates into: Extension of the prana/ life force or breath.
I realize that definition sounds a little heavy, so stick with me.
Essentially, Pranayama is a way to use the breath to focus and relax the mind.
That’s doable right?
So through controlled, intentional breathing we can control the mind.
If you have ever meditated before….I hope so…..then you know how out of control the mind is. Our wild minds show up everywhere, like when you are deep in a Warrior pose, but thinking about what’s for dinner.
To help the dinner + all random thoughts come to a halt, I introduce you to Ujjayi breath, with the U pronounced oo, like moo minus the M, and yi with the I saying it’s name.
Ujjayi breath is used during your yoga practice to help focus the mind and propel the movements. You may have heard people using this breath technique in class at some point, no they did not have a cold. This breath is fairly audible, although it sounds louder to you than to others.
The breath is initiated from the diaphragm, think belly breathing instead of chest breathing, and is taken in and expelled out through the nose. The sound created in the back of your throat is from air movement and not your voice.
This breath has been called ocean breath, but in my opinion it sounds a lot more like Darth Vader.
Using this Pranayama during your practice helps to keep the mind focused in the present moment, drawing your attention inward. This breath also helps you discover and sustain strength reserves you didn’t know existed.
Just as you would expect with yoga, this breath takes practice. It is not easy to maintain the whole time, but as your diaphragm gets stronger, this breath becomes easier.
And one last piece of advice……let go of your your worry about being heard by those around you.
Seriously just let that shit go.
Use your Ujjayi and use it proud!
So now that we have talked about up, lets talk about down. As in bringing you down into a calm, meditative state.
The other Pranayama I want to introduce is called Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing. This breath is used prior to meditation or any moment where you need to calm the mind and relax the body.
By alternating what nostril the breath enters through, we are helping to balance the two hemispheres of our brain, creating a sense of calm. If you’d like to try this breath, which I highly encourage, follow along with the instructions below:
- Before you begin, find a nice comfortable seat. Sit upright with a lengthened spine and relaxed shoulders.
- Let hand rests in your lap.
- With your right hand – place the tips of your middle and index finger into your palm, keep your ring and pinky finger together, then bring your hand close to the face.
- Take a nice inhale breath and fully exhale.
- At the bottom of the exhale, use the ring and pinky finger to block off your left nostril.
- Take an inhale for a count of three, through the right nostril, then use the thumb to block the right nostril, releasing the left nostril and with control, exhale through the left nostril to a count of six.
- At the bottom of that exhale, inhale through the left again for a count of three, block off the left nostril with the ring and pinky finger, release the thumb from the right nostril, and exhale for a controlled six count.
- That is one complete round.
If you find that the breath count of three to six is challenging and you feel any type of anxiety, start with a count of in for two out for four, and if that still feels challenging, start with your in and out breaths at an even count, so in for three out for three.
Try to do at least six rounds of this breath before settling into your meditation.
There you have it, simple and easy right?
Well sort of, but like all things these too take practice, and there is so much more that you can dive into…..as in we just scratched the surface here, so if your interest is peaked, know that there are TONS of resources out there to help you explore a pranayama practice.
Let’s Talk Yogis – Do you practice pranyama? Are you interested in learning breathing techniques? Have you encountered the Darth Vader breathers in class?
As always – your thoughts, suggestions and questions are welcome down below.
Both Ujjayi and Nadi Shodhana are a beautiful and useful tool to add into your practice when you are ready, but please don’t force anything. If these feel forced, and or cause any discomfort then you are just paddling up stream and its best to let them go for now. Also, if you’re pregnant, please consult with a yoga teacher before practicing any type of pranayama.
Hey! I’m Allie.
I’m a self-growth student, freedom-seeker, yoga teacher and the founder of a tight-knit online yoga community: the Body Mind Soul Studio. I’m here to teach you how to transform your life on-and-off-the-mat with a holistic yoga practice.
I wanna learn it all!
The Yoga Reset Guide is my FREE 7-step journey to deepen your practice and recenter your body, mind and soul. Self-paced, no equipment necessary, perfect for beginners AND veteran yogis.