7 yogic breaths to use in every day life
Breath is the basic aspect of yoga. It is the basic aspect of life too, but for some reason we tend to forget this. Maybe because we have a system so perfect, we call it our body, that can do all for us without our conscious participation or even will. But without breath there is no life and without breath there is definitely no yoga. Yoga here is the practice of all kinds of poses (asanas), flows and meditations, but it is also the full meaning of the word, unity, a practice of living in unity of the mind, body and soul.
Any yogic, mindfulness or presence practice, any practice for any sport of endurance, strength or balance, even vocations and hobbies that require calmness, focus and precision, they all start with the practice of breath. This is because once you take conscious control over your breath, you can and will take control of really anything in life, being that a task at hand, a circumstance, or your life itself.
Knowing this it becomes obvious how important learning how to breathe is! I myself often wonder why this is not the first thing they teach us in school. There is nothing more important than knowing how and being able to breathe properly. This is why I do what I do in my life. (Mainly teaching people the importance of breathing that is, as well as reaching out to schools and organizations suggesting the idea)
By now you have probably started paying attention to your breath. How does it look like right now? Just notice, no judging. Is it calm, long, deep, almost like congratulating yourself for knowing what you have read so far? Is it maybe short and shallow, rushing through this first part to come to the actual bullet-points? Maybe it is fast and firey, judging the writer for acting like they know better? Wherever it is, just observe, accept and let's try to take the next one consciously. Breathe in, with your full attention to the breath, feel the in-breath and then breathe out.
Like you love yourself.
Take a few more just like that.
Breathe in and out.
Now we can continue.
Conscious, steady breath
Breathing consciously and deliberately, exactly like we did just now, can take you many beautiful places in life. I mean it. And I promise. Miracles are on their way and only waiting for you to come to calm and open breath so they can come in.
Even if you don't finish this list and take only this .gif out of it, it will still make wonders for you. Every time you remember, ideally a few times a day, just take a few conscious, deep, juicy breaths. Wherever you are, whatever you do, just stop for a few seconds and take a beautiful, life giving, restoring breath. Breathe in, let it all out. Breathe in fully. Sigh it out, sing it, do whatever comes, just spend a minute or two of mindful breathing. Just breathe, nothing else.
A few years ago, for several months, I had four alarms around the day set to remind me to breathe. (They were named "your body is your temple" and "you are your temple") As silly as it sounds, this might help you make a habit of conscious breathing.
Pause on the top
To add to the conscious breathing and really take that control over your breath (and life!) add a pause at the top of the in-breath. Breathe in for five to ten seconds (find what is comfortable for you, and start practicing there, it will extend in time), then take a pause for nearly the same time before you exhale again. Now, when we do this we tend to close our throat. Keep your throat open and just gently pause at the top, without force, without holding tight. Then exhale. You can add a short pause at the bottom too. Continue like this for two or three minutes, or for as long as it feels good for you. This is a great preparation practice for meditation.
To prepare your mind for meditation too, you can count the seconds or the breaths, up to ten then start again from one. When you notice your mind has gone it's way, just gently bring it back to breathing (really feeling the breath) and counting.
When you feel like really going on an adventure with this breathing exercise, add a root lock¹. This can help holding the breath without closing the throat.
Ocean breath (Ujjayi)
This one is the most beautiful, the most yogic, the most audible breath one can take. Ujjayi in translation from sanskrit means victorious breath. It is known as ocean breath because of its liquid feeling and sound. Slow, steady, juicy, soft and audible. In yoga practice it is the breath that we use to add steady flow to whatever asana or sequence we are practicing at the moment. Weather we are in rest, holding side-plank or are bound like a pretzel, we add this calm and audible breath to be able to achieve, hold or let go with grace. (Many prefer conscious steady breathing until the postures and flows are mastered, then go on to ujjayi.)
We come to ujjayi pranayam by gently constricting the back of the throat, similar to whispering or when we try to fog glass (so we can leave a love message!) If you take the glass fogging analogy try it first on your mirror, and really try to fog as much area as possible with one full breath, then remember the position of the throat and try the same with your mouth closed, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Then continue breathing like this, allowing yourself to feel the breath flowing through you, cleansing, warming, softening and relaxing you into a meditative state. Although there is a constriction in the throat, the breath flows in and out steadily and evenly in one long and unbroken inspiration, producing a friction sound, like an ocean in distance.
During yoga practice, this breath helps to stay focused and meditative, helps hold asanas longer and stronger, and makes stretching and twisting safer and more available. It releases tension and tightness in the body, diminishes headaches, gives relief of sinus pressure and strengthens the nervous system and the digestive system.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
Another breathing technique sent from the heavens, Nadi Shodhana, can have a profound impact on your body, mind, and nervous system. Nadi translates to channel and Shodhana means purification. The main purpose of this breath is to purify or clear the channels in both the physical and the subtle body. It is used widely to balance out the sympathetic and parasympathetic system. In other words, we can use it when we feel overwhelmed and we need to calm down (like almost any other yogic breath), but we can also use it when we need an influx of fresh energy and inspiration. It can both wake up and calms down the system, at the same time. It helps greatly with headaches and also when we feel stuck and need to stir up our creativity.
It is best to do it sited in a comfortable position on a chair, or on the floor with legs crossed, and straight back. Start by exhaling completely. Using the right thumb close the right nostril and inhale on the left. Then with the other fingers (usually the ring finger) close the left nostril and exhale on the right. Continue by inhaling on the right and then switch, close the right nostril and exhale through the left.
Continue like this until it feels comfortable or at least around two minutes, exhale then inhale on one nostril, switch, exhale and inhale on the other. Even it out at the end and continue breathing slowly and fully through both nostrils for a while.
Breath of Fire (Agni Pran)
Mostly practiced in Kundalini Yoga, breath of fire is, like Nadi Shodhana, another awakening yogic breath at our disposal. It's first and most obvious benefit is creating fire, in the form of huge amounts of warmth and energy in our body. To come to breath of fire, we start with a few deep breaths first, inhaling and exhaling fully. Then we inhale again to start, exhale only half way and start pumping the breath out in sharp and rhythmic movements, pulling the navel inwards. As you exhale, the abdomen and the navel point contract moving towards the spine (and somewhat upwards), and as you inhale the abdomen relaxes forward as the diaphragm lowers filling up the lungs. Only need to put attention and will in the forceful out-breath (now this is just a phrase, please be gentle with yourself!), and the in-breath will happen automatically between the out-breaths. It takes some practice to do it right and to be able to maintain it for a minute (one doesn't need more than two minutes at a time). To practice, whenever you get tired just take a calming deep breath in and out and then continue.
Agni pran boosts the energy so much, the entire body feels light and rejuvenated afterwards. With the warmth created it stimulates all tissues and cells in the body. According to Kundalini philosophy the active use of the abdominal area also encourages better functioning of the internal organs, improving digestion. It is also known as an incredible tool against feeling anxiety, fear, sorrow or lethargy.
Lions Breath (Simhasana)
One yogic breath that everyone needs! It is silly and it works like a charm! Lions breath helps release any tension in the face and the mind, both usually caused by stress. In time it teaches how to release the cause of tension all together. It relaxes the throat and the lungs while stimulating the vocal chords and the diaphragm (which is great for speaking your truth). It is the fifth/throat chakra jewel that releases any tension and tightness we've gathered through our day, or life even.
Start with a few mindful inhales and exhales to prepare, and then roar. Inhale fully, deeply through the nose and then open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out towards the chin, as long as it goes, and exhale it all from your stomach with a "haaaa" sound. Then take a calming breath or two in and out. Works best repeated a few times, breathing calmly once or twice in between, up to seven repetitions. (I usually do three.) Finish by breathing deep and calm breaths for a couple of minutes.
One more aspect to pay attention to while practicing Simhasana is the eyes position. Originally it is done gazing up and in towards your sixth chakra/third eye, the point between your eyebrows. Otherwise you can do it gazing towards your nose or up in the sky. This is so you look slightly sillier while doing it. It will help reduce judgement and seriousness in life. I promise. Besides other benefits that is.
Bonus fun - Horse Lips
To instantly release any tension caused by anything in life, just inhale in and on the exhale let your lips flap like they have never before. Do it in a middle of an argument, and it guarantees fast and easy resolution. It's best done standing up, as you can add to it shaking of your upper body, your shoulders and arms for better results.
To help your counterpart release their rigidity too, offer to do it together. Just breathe, shake your body a little and flap your lips on the exhale, while also flapping your arms around. It is the bliss from heaven when we feel tense and tight.
Another benefit of horse lips is instant release in the pelvic area. Sitting comfortably cross legged on the floor or your couch, leaning slightly on the front while flapping the horse lips brings instant relief from menstrual or ovulation cramps. It can help release pain in the lower abdomen and pelvic caused by any reason. Some even say that it can assist greatly in birthing pains too. Looking forward to trying this one!
Daily practice of pranayama, or breath work, can bring amazing benefits that yogis have recognized for thousands of years. I have only mentioned a simple few here just to spark your interest in breath. I only claim here what I myself know for sure and without a doubt. Science is only now slowly catching up researching the benefits of breath. But you can go deep, as deep as you want in experiential research of breath and the benefits of conscious, willful and purposeful breathing. You may get surprised what a simple breath can do. I promised magic at the beginning of this text, and in my life I have all the proof of it. Magick. One breath at a time. Happy breathing! Namaste!
- - - ¹ A root lock (Mula Bandha) means to close, or rather, slightly tense the area in and around your pelvic floor, which in yogic philosophy is known as muladara or the first/root chakra. To apply the lock one needs to tighten the perineal muscles. As those are hard to isolate, especially at the beginning of the practice, start by contracting all of your root area including the genitals, the anus and all in between and around the pelvic. Apply the lock as you breathe in and hold the pause and then relax on the exhale. With practice this lock becomes easier and more isolated to the perineum, as the benefits of it become more obvious too.