What is breathwork called in yoga?

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Nurturing Your Practice

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Just breathe…If you’re new to yoga and the different techniques used in this practice, then one thing you’ll need to know is breathing plays a vital role in everything you do. So, what is breathwork called in Yoga?

The discipline of breathwork in Yoga is called pranayama. Pranayama means ‘to extend the vital life source’ and it uses the following different techniques:

  • Active Yogic Breathing
  • Brahmari – The Humming Breath
  • Bhastrika – The Bellows Breath 
  • Chandra Bhedana – The Lunar Breath
  • Deep Belly Breathing
  • Nadi Shodhana – Alternate Nostril Breathing 
  • Siitkari Kumbhaka – The Hissing Breath
  • Surya Bhedana – The Solar Breath
  • Ujjayi – Ocean’s Breath
  • Kapalabhati – Breath of Fire

We know breathing is a vital part of our life, but we’re not usually that conscious of it all of the time. It’s kind of just a reflex. So, when you start yoga it might come as a surprise how much effort and discipline comes with breathing techniques. Let’s see how breathwork is used in yoga.

What Is the Purpose of Breathwork

You can try as many different poses in yoga as you want, but without proper control of your breath, you won’t be able to master them. In yoga, your breathing is thought to carry your life force and pranayama is the way you would be able to clear physical and emotional barriers within you to help you achieve a free life force.

Pranayama is bringing a total focus to your breath and enforces the mind-body connection that frees your life force.

How Does Yoga Use Breathwork

So how does yoga actually use breathwork to achieve this mind-body connection, you ask? I’m glad you asked. 

We’re not usually conscious of our breathing throughout our day and are stiff. Yoga uses different breathing techniques to bring our consciousness to how our breath works throughout our bodies and concentrate it in different areas, at different lengths and capacities. 

Short and shallow breathing depletes the energy in your body. Yoga uses breathwork to allow for deep breathing with your whole body so that you can increase the energy flow. Breathing techniques are also used to avoid injury because you are not more energized and aware of your mind and body. 

You’re probably aware that there is more than one way to breathe. Generally, when you’re in a panic you’ll have at least one person tell you to breathe deeply. But there’s more than just shallow and deep breathing.

What Are the Different Breathing Techniques Used in Yoga

Active Yogic Breathing

Active Yogic means taking long, slow, and deep breaths while walking at a moderate pace. Inhaling and exhaling, you will keep track of your steps while you breathe in and breathe out. 

You should always aim to take at least ten steps for each breath. The active Yogic breathing technique aims to combine an active lifestyle with the calming effect of being aware of your breathing.

Bhastrika – The Bellows Breath

This breathing technique is inspired by a blacksmith’s method to make things. Think of a big, brawny person, forcefully pumping air into the fire to increase its intensity.

You can practice Bhastrika by closing your right nostril and breathing rapidly twenty times through the left nostril. Repeat this with the other nostril and finally through both. And finally through both nostrils at the same time.

You should only do Bhastrik when being observed because it is a deep and forceful breathing technique. If you have any heart, lung, or abdomen problems, it’s better for you to not try. 

Brahmari – The Humming Breath

During the Brahmari technique you will breathe in deeper than your usual breath and when you breathe out you will hum like the sound of a bee. You will feel the resonation of the vibrations between your head and your heart, and continue to do this for another ten breaths. 

To intensify the effect of the resonance, after you’ve done the first ten breaths, repeat but this time block your ears.

Chandra Bhedana – The Lunar Breath

The Chandra Bhedana is what we know as a cooling breath – a lunar breath. You can practice it by inhaling through the left nostril and exhaling through the right for six to ten breaths. 

It’s important that you don’t do it if you have any form of depression, excess mucus, bad digestion, or mental disturbances.

Nadi Shodhana – Alternate Nostril Breathing

The Nadi Shodhana is a breathing technique that helps when feeling anxious and irritated. 

You can practice this by inhaling deeply through the left nostril, blocking your right nostril. When your breath reaches its peak, block the left nostril and breathe out through your right. Make sure you exhale as smoothly as possible. When you have fully exhaled, inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left in the same manner as the previous breath. 

Siitkari Kumbhaka – The Cooling Breath

For this technique, you need to fold your tongue lengthwise and breathe in deeply through that fold. Then close your mouth, hold your breath and count to eight. At eight seconds release your breath through your nose. Do this eight times for eight minutes at maximum. 

Don’t do this technique if you suffer from asthma, bronchitis, or chronic constipation.

Siitkari Kumbhaka – The Hissing Breath

Very similar to the cooling breath, but for this technique, you will inhale through your nose, hold your breath for eight seconds and release your breath through your mouth, but instead of folding your tongue you’ll rest your teeth on your tongue and make a hissing sound, like s-s-s. 

Just like the cooling breath, it’s best to avoid doing this technique too if you have asthma, bronchitis, or chronic constipation.

Surya Bhedana – The Solar Breath

This technique is similar to alternate nostril breathing and brings a warm breath to your body. You can practice this by inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through the left for a maximum of ten minutes.

Ujjayi – Ocean’s Breath

If you think of a calm ocean and how it would make you feel on a carefree holiday, these are the intended effects of the Ujjayi breathing technique, even though it gives a warming effect. 

You’ll breathe in a bit deeper than your normal breath and exhale through your nose with your mouth open or closed and tensing the muscles in your throat. When you exhale try and make a “haaaah” sound.

If you suffer from low blood pressure it’s best not to do this technique.

Kapalabhati – Breath of Fire

This technique is used to fight lethargy and boost your energy in yoga. You can do it by inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling slowly through your nose too. With your mouth closed, inhale again. When you exhale this time, pull your lower abdomen and release the air out in bursts. 

Final Thoughts

Breathwork in yoga comes in so many different forms and techniques. It’s aimed at bringing your consciousness to a state of balance between your mind and your body by controlling your breathing awareness. Being self-aware is key when practicing the different techniques and if you suffer from any chronic ailments it’s best to let your instructor know so you know which to avoid.  

Breathwork is a vital part of yoga and arguably the most important part. Now go and take your yoga to the next level.

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