Earlier this week we explored 3 healing yoga breaths (pranayama). Pranayama can calm you down, but it can also energize your body with an intense combination of powerful inhalations and exhalations. Any time I am warming up my body in sun salutation, I practice vigorous pranayama exercises to help awaken my body and soul. These energizing breaths help to invigorate the mind and heart from the inside, while also toning and stretching the muscles on the outside. The breathing exercises described below can enhance your yoga practice with additional heat, or be done strictly on their own to naturally increase your strength and energy and help clear your mind.
Ocean Breath – Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath)
This breath is mainly used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga. Learn the breath seated, but once mastered the breath is practiced throughout your asana practice and incorporated into every pose. The English translation of Ujjayi is “to be victorious” and using this style of breathing within your practice is known to enhance and empower it. The sound this breath creates is similar to the ocean waves, making this vigorous breath also soothing and tension-releasing as well as being energizing.
1. Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth.
2. Slightly constrict the back of your throat as if you are whispering or trying to fog up a mirror.
3. As you exhale and inhale with the throat constriction, the sound made will be similar to the sounds of the ocean. Imagine slow tidal waves drifting in and out of you as you breathe, like the how the ocean moves over the shore.
4. When you are comfortable with the breath, close your mouth gently and breath through your nose. The same ocean sound should be audible, but not to someone standing a few feet away.
1. Improves concentration during asana practice.
2. Provides endurance during your practice, especially for a flow practice.
3. Helps to regulate heat through the body from the air that is passed through the lungs and throat. The air passing through warms up the core and creates internal body heat, helping us prepare for asana practice.
This breath is one of my favorites to do when I feel very tense and on edge. After a long day, a lot of tension accumulates in my face causing from brow to jaw to tighten almost subconsciously. This breath can be practiced in any yoga pose or simply in a seated position. The facial expression made helps to release built-up anxiety and relaxes you—yet all while being simultaneously invigorating.
1. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth making an “ha” sound. As you exhale, open your mouth as wide as possible and stick your tongue out towards your chin. Turn your gaze towards your third eye as you exhale. Inhale and return to a neutral expression.
1. Relieves tension in face, jaw and upper body.
2. Releases negativity and anxiety
3. Boosts confidence
Breath of fire
Breath of fire is a foundational breathing technique for Kundalini Yoga. This purifying breathing exercise is wonderful to do during your sun salutation to help awaken your body in the morning. However, it is suggested that one should avoid this breath during menstruation.
1. Breathe in and out through your nose. As you inhale, pull your abdomen in and out on the exhalation. Do this navel pumping quickly, about two to three times per second.
1. Helps keep blood purified and detoxes the body easily.
2. Purifies respiratory system and expands lung capacity.
3. Balances and strengthens the nervous system.
Translating to “Skull Shining,” this breathing exercise brings inner radiance and cleanses your body. The exercise is intended to clear the sinuses in your skull but has additional benefits in helping to tone your muscles and oxygenate your body.
1. Sit in a comfortable seated position with back straight, with palms facing downward and resting on your knees.
2. Breathe in through your nose and contract your lower belly.
3. Exhale as you pump your belly and push air out of your lungs. Exhale through your nose as you contract.
4. After exhalation, inhale without using any effort.
1. Strengthens stomach and abdomen.
2. Cleanses lunges, sinuses and respiratory system.
3. Improved digestion
Related: 3 Yoga Breaths for Self-Healing
Also by Jessica: How to Get Soft, Kissable Lips
Photo: ouistitis via Flickr; Lauren Pressley via Flickr; Timothy Rose via Flickr; Jillian via Flickr