Developing an understanding of the ways in which the breath affects us on biological,
mental, and energetic levels remind us of its importance, not only in Yoga but also
when it comes to cultivating balance and peace in our daily lives.
Conscious diaphragmatic breathing soothes the nervous system and creates a sense
of well-being. It also heightens our awareness. It pulls us out of the part of our
“thinking” mind that is running a constant inner commentary analyzing and judging
what is happening, did happen, or may happen around us. It connects us to a deeper
state of consciousness that is without the words, the story, the verbal chatter of our
thoughts. And by doing so, it guides us to a truer understanding of who we actually
are. In truth, the breath is the most important element of yoga practice.
One should know and learn the techniques of breathing not only when he is on his
Yoga mat but also when he is off the mat, maybe during his working hours, or any
leisure time.
Techniques of Breathing
There are some simple techniques of breathing which will soothe your inner self and
enhance your body system entirely.
1. Complete Belly Breath
With one hand on your belly, relax your abdominal muscles, and slowly inhale
through the nose, bringing air into the bottom of your lungs. You should feel
your abdomen rise. This expands the lower parts of the lungs. Continue to
inhale as your rib cage expands outward, and finally, the collar bones rise. At
the peak of the inhalation, pause for a moment, then exhale gently from the
top of your lungs to the bottom. At the end of exhalation, contract your
abdominal muscles slightly to push residual air out of the bottom of your
lungs.

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
When you are feeling anxious or ungrounded, practice Alternate Nostril
Breathing. This will immediately help you feel calmer. Hold your right thumb
over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the peak of
your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your fourth finger, lift your right
thumb, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril. After a full
exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at
the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through
your left nostril. Continue with this practice for 3 to 5 minutes, alternating your
breathing through each nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, with your
mind gently observing the inflow and outflow of breath.
3. Ocean’s Breath
When you feel angry, irritated, or frustrated, try a cooling pranayama such as
Ocean’s Breath. This will immediately soothe and settle your mind. Take an
inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale
through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this
correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean. Another way to get the hang
of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now
make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through
your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same
method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.

4. Energizing Breath
When you are feeling blue or sluggish, try Energizing Breath. This will give you an
immediate surge of energy and invigorate your mind. Begin by relaxing your
shoulders and take a few deep, full breaths from your abdomen. Now start
exhaling forcefully through your nose, followed by forceful, deep inhalations at
the rate of one second per cycle. Your breathing is entirely from your diaphragm,
keeping your head, neck, shoulders, and chest relatively still while your belly
moves in and out. Start by doing a round of ten breaths, then breathe naturally
and notice the sensations in your body. After 15 to 30 seconds, begin the next
round with 20 breaths. Finally, after pausing for another 30 seconds, complete
the third round of 30 breaths. Beginners are advised to take a break between
rounds. Although Energizing Breath is a safe practice, stay tuned in to your body
during the process. If you feel light-headed or very uncomfortable, stop for a few
moments before resuming in a less intense manner.

Disclaimer: Do not practice this if you are pregnant or have uncontrolled
hypertension, epilepsy/seizures, panic disorder, hernia, gastric ulcer, glaucoma,
or vertigo. Use caution if there is an underlying lung disease.

Breathing does not need any pre-requisites or equipment, instead, it can be done
anywhere – indoors or outdoors and anytime – leisure or traveling. So try and not
restrict it only to your Yoga mats but also practice it during short office breaks, or
while you are traveling to/from work. This would keep you energizes, fresh and
stress-free.