“The mind is the king of the senses, but the breath is the king of the mind.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Breathing is an instinctual bodily function; we take thousands of breaths a day without even thinking about it and yet when done consciously, this simple act of breathing can be immensely beneficial for our bodies. While we have covered the benefits of conscious breathing earlier (to read this, check out our blog here), today we’ll focus on the techniques you can utilize to reap these benefits.
Breathing exercises don’t have to take up too much of your time, it's just about learning to pay attention to your breathing particularly when dealing with stress, anxiety, anger, and other overwhelming emotions. A simple technique to get started can be as simple as something called Pursed Lip Breathing. It involves breathing in through your nose for 2 counts and then pursuing your lips and exhaling through your mouth for 4 counts.
Another simple technique to breathing consciously is called the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It works wonderfully to calm anxiety and instils a restful state making it easier to relax and fall asleep. To try it, empty your lungs of air and then breathe in softly through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold this breath in your lungs for 7 seconds and then exhale forcefully through your mouth for 8 seconds. You can repeat this cycle up to 4 times to noticeably reduce overwhelming emotions, manage cravings, and to combat insomnia.
There are a number of Yoga breathing techniques that are simple and yet have profound targeted benefits. The Sitali Breath - The Cooling Breath, helps to lower your body temperature and relax your mind. This involves sticking your tongue out and then curling it to bring the outer edges together. If you can’t curl your tongue, pursing your lips will suffice. Inhale through your mouth and exhale out through your nose. Continue this breathing pattern for 5 minutes. The Sitali Breath can be practiced at any time of day, but is most beneficial for moments when you need to cool down; emotionally, mentally, and physically. Practice Sitali when you are feeling anxious, needing to relax, are feeling discomfort, needing to focus, or after a power yoga class!
The alternate nostril breathing is another popular breathing technique in yoga. Referred to as "Nadi Shodhana" in a Pranayama practice, it is used to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. Start by taking a deep cleansing breathe, making sure to release all the air from the lungs. Curl in your index and middle fingers in towards your palms, then using your right thumb, gently press against the side of your right nostril, just enough to restrict the airflow. Exhale all the air from your lungs through the left nostril. Inhale with your left nostril for 4 seconds and then close your left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers. Hold the breath for 4 seconds, then removing your right thumb from your right nostril, exhale to empty your lungs through your right nostril for 8 seconds. Inhale for 4 seconds through your right nostril and then placing the right thumb over the right nostril to hold the breath for 4 seconds. Open your left nostril and exhale all the air out for 8 seconds. This is considered one cycle. The pattern continues for each round: inhale through the left nostril, hold, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, hold, exhale through the left nostril. Continue this breathing pattern for 5 minutes, finishing with an exhale on the left side.
There are still many other breathing techniques that cover a wide range of functions but using these as a start can hopefully lead to a lifelong commitment to healing and self care through this profound yet simple act.