How to turn one of the most automatic of the bodily functions into a focused, practiced breath, is perhaps at once one of the simplest, and hardest concepts for new yogis to learn. Most of us westerners have always relied on physiology: when we exercise our breath can increase about 10 fold, which is actually astonishing. Not only that, but the pure physiologic beauty to breathing is actually highly under appreciated. As we exercise the amount we ventilate per minute is a perfect physiologic match to the carbon dioxide we produce while keeping both the carbon dioxide and the pH of the arterial blood flow stable beyond any detectable changes. To add a bit of fun to our breath practice (Pranayama) here’s a quick introduction breath per day you can learn. You will probably still need a coach to really catch on to these, but never too soon to begin!
In breath work, one goal is to match the inhales and exhales. Pace is of course your own, most of the scientific studies on breath enhanced cognition, stress relief, and improved physiology with yoga have looked at breathing about six times a minute, which will take some practice as while you are reading this you are probably breathing about 12-16 times per minute. Once you get to practicing there are literally endless ways you can enhance these breaths with movement and thought and technique. The exploration is your ticket to success!
One: Ujjayi. Ocean sounding breath. Fogging up a mirror sort of motion, but with your mouth closed. Use this breathing to both mentally improve focus, and physically to both tone and strengthen breathing muscles.
Two: Sithali. Your straw breath, used to enhance cooling. Inhale through that curled straw of a tongue (or just pucker your lips if your genetically wired to have a flat tongue!) and exhale through your nose.
Three: Nadhi Sodahana. This is literally inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time, and then bringing it back through the other side. It’s an extremely calming breath. You need to help coordinate this breathing with compressing the non-breathing nostril one finger per side. No way will you not be focused on your breath, it takes concentration and it’s a beautiful cleanse!
Four: Kapalabhati. This one is all about a short, forceful exhale. Almost literally a pant, as fast as your belly will push that air out. This breath you will find energizing as well as focusing, the teachers say ‘like a cup of espresso!’
Five: Bharmari. Bee breath, literally humming, or buzzing as you breathe. Like the nature it use this breath to reduce anxiety, allowing you to turn inward to clear mind.
Six: Dirga. Three part breath. Fill belly, then chest, then upper lungs and neck, by breathing through your nose. The exhale is in the opposite order. A simple way to lengthen your breath for calm while you de-stress.
The Seventh breath for our series: Simhasana. Lion’s breath, complete with outstretched tongue and a distinctive HA! sound. The breath is used to release tension in face and jaw, gives your face beauty while giving you the mental clarity with intensity of a lion. Inhale through your nose, and pant out that breath as loud as you can. It’s all about the face, the speed, the morning alertness, and the literal joy of that fierce face of yours.
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