Yogic Breathing for Dummies

So, I discovered that I’ve been breathing like an asshole my entire life. Imagine how fast a frantic Chihuahua in a thunderstorm breathes.

That’s me, but like always. Not good.

I thought, “Breathing is easy…my body just does it naturally and I don’t have to think about it”. But what I learned in my last Yoga Teacher Training class makes so much sense and makes me realize that I’ve been breathing badly for as long as I can remember.

No doubt my anxious mind has been is partly due to how I breathe.  I’ve been breathing air only into my upper chest and forgetting about ALL the rest of the lung space I have. I think lots of us do this. When we breathe shallow and fast, our mind tends to follow the breath and we get more anxious and scatterbrained.  We, in turn, live shorter lives..like that shaking, scared little Chihuahua. When we breathe slower, we live longer and are more calm.

This is a game changer!

I’ve always heard people say to take deep breaths when you are stressed or having a panic attack. It’s not that I never tried that, trust me I did.  Quite a few times. But gave up it too quickly and brushed it off as crazy talk.  We are in a world that makes you think you need to be medicated to fix all your problems, when something as simple as breathing deeply could help immensely if not fix lots of issues.  Not just in the times of panic, but breathing right all the time will prevent you from getting to a place of panic in the first place!

When I was in class learning about Pranayama (Yogic Breathing), I challenged myself to breath deeply throughout the entire 5 hours I was there and see how I felt. OMG! My stress knots in my neck loosed a bit, my mind was not as scattered even though I only slept 3 hours the night before, and I felt amazing. I know this will be a hard thing to do all the time since I have been breathing “wrong” for years, but it will be in my mental health checklist when I feel myself feeling like that nervous little dog…but more importantly I will breathe deeply before I’m stressed to try keep myself somewhat level-headed. I’m a work in process.

Below is a list of the various types of Yogic Breathing styles and how to do them if you too would like to be more human than Chihuahua.

Dirga (Three Dimensional Breath):

This is the one I did through class and how I will strive to breathe most often now.  It’s insanely calming and is great to do for mediation, during stress, or anytime really. You breathe into the belly first then move the breath into the ribs and spread the side ribs with air, then bring the air up into the chest.  The chest is where most of us are used to breathing, so that should feel familiar.  You will up your torso with breath like you are filling up a glass of water, then you exhale like you are emptying that glass of water. This is a silent breathing method, meaning the breath should not be audible. You do not hold the breath on either the inhale or exhale.  You let it flow smoothly. Wooh-sa!

Ujjayi (Breath of Victory):

This is one that builds heat in your body and makes you sound like Darth Vader.  Hint: building heats burns more calories. This is the breathing style most done in Yoga classes.  You breathe in and out with a slight constriction of the throat.  To practice this: exhale out of the mouth like you are trying to fog a mirror then continue that, but close your mouth. “Luke, I am your father.”

Kapalbhati (Breath of Fire):

I’ve done this one in a handful of yoga classes as well.  If you are an anxious person, it’s good to do this one with a slower breath that faster which is how it’s normally done.  You take air into the stomach and push it out with a quick constriction of the diaphragm (think about that move you do when a good looking person walks by when you are in a bikini…got it?). The body shouldn’t move, just the tummy. You shouldn’t have to think about the inhale, it just happens naturally because you create a vacuum when you force your breath out like this. You repeat this many times before finishing with a deep cleansing breath.  Rinse and repeat if desired.  This is a cleansing breath.

Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing):

I learned to do this one watching YouTube videos in the past because I wanted a way to calm my mind more before meditation. It’s great for that, but again, this can be used anytime a calm mind is needed or wanted throughout our crazy days. It’s great for anxiety and depression.  Place your hand on your face with the thumb on your one nostril and a finger on the other one. The two peace fingers can be placed on the third eye because that’s a calming pressure point and feels good to be massaged. 2 for one, man! Always begin the inhale into the left nostril while blocking the right one with your finger or thumb. You inhale and exhale, the close off the left nostril and open the right and exhale out of that one.  Always switch sides on the exhale and always start on the left.  This breathing exercise balances out out. This can be combined with Kumbhaka.

Kumbhaka (Breath Retention):

You may choose to hold only the inhale (energizing…not good for anxious people, but great for depression) or only hold the exhale (good for grounding). You can also choose to hold the breath coming in and out both (balancing). In most cases, the length of the breath will match the length of the hold and it’s always good to have the exhale be longer than the inhale.

Bhramari (Bees Breath):

I have never done this one before learning about it in class and I have to say I love it! Close the ears with your thumbs, the third and forth fingers go over your eyes, the index fingers rest on your forehead, and the pinkys goThe breathing book on either side of your nostrils.  You keep the mouth closed and jaw relaxed. Take a deep breath in and when you exhale, you hum and do your best bee impression.  It’s a little strange sounding, but try it. This wakes up the upper Chakras (whatever that means) and is energizing, but grounding at the same time.  I just know it feels pretty good and I will be doing it again.

So, there you go.  Now go on and de-stress. Let me know in the comments what you tried and how it made you feel!

Books to look into for more information on this: The breathing book, The art of breathing

and watch: on yoga: the architecture of peace


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