Energize Yourself with Pranayama: Yogic Breathing

Updated on:
May 17, 2021
Irena Chia

Isn’t yogic breathing like ordinary breathing? Inhale. Exhale. What more is there? It may sound strange, but science tells us we’ve been breathing wrong all our lives. Pranayama, a form of breathing technique, has been around for thousands of years. Today, people are using it more and more as a form of drug-free solution for reducing stress and feeling young again. 

Pranayama yogic breathing

Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, said: “When one gives undivided attention to the breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliance, he can become a babe.”  Lao Tzu is telling us that anchoring our attention to the spontaneity and subtleness of the breath enables us to become like infants once more. 

Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. Prana means life force and yama means control, but can also mean extension. Extending one’s vital life force – who wouldn’t want some of that?

Sounds illogical, but apparently most people breathe in a shallow manner using only their upper chest and a small part of their lung capacity. Various studies show that the reduction in lung capacity can be as much as 30% less. 

Improper breathing deprives the body of oxygen and prana, which are essential for optimum health. 

Why Is Breath So Important?

The breath is intimately associated with all aspects of human experience, and is considered either friend or foe, depending on how it is used. 

Respiration aids with the burning of glucose and oxygen, producing energy which influences mental process, glandular secretion and muscular contraction.  Dr. James Hoyt, a pulmonologist, says “Our respiratory muscles don’t have the luxury of being out of shape”. 

The lowest section of our lungs has many blood vessels which carry oxygen to all our cells. When we breathe wrongly, oxygen never reaches that lower part of our lungs

Without adequate amounts of oxygen, we are at high risk of: –

  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep issues 
  • Inability to concentrate 

Ancient Yogic Philosophy 

According to ancient yogic texts, depending on our deeds from the past, we come into this world with a certain quota of breaths. If we spend our lives in constant fear and sickness, our breathing loses its natural rhythm. We breathe fast and shallow, exhausting our breath quota prematurely

One of the most influential and fundamental texts in yoga is 2,000-year-old text Yoga Sutras, written by sage Patanjali. Patanjali outlines what is now known as the eight-limbs of yoga. This path is designed to assist us with cultivating inner strength and ultimately liberating ourselves from being victim of our surroundings and emotions. 

In one monumental line, Patanjali states “The practice of yoga is the commitment to become established in the state of freedom.” – Sutra 1.31, Book 1. 

The eight limbs are:

  1. Yamas (restraints)
  2. Niyamas (observances)
  3. Asana (physical postures)
  4. Pranayama (breathing techniques)
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal/turning attention inward)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (enlightenment/bliss/inner-peace/union of self) 

The Greatest Offender: Your Lifestyle And Culture

Lifestyle has a serious impact on our vital energy. Physical activities, mental patterns, diet and posture can either deplete or enrich our life force. Our culture often rewards stifled strong emotions and teaches us from young to hold back our anger in conflict. By keeping ourselves in this constant state of check, we unconsciously start to create irregular breathing patterns. 

Most cultures today deem the washboard stomach as highly attractive. This adds pressure for us to achieve yet another perfect body-image hurdle, and ensures people walk around with constricted stomach muscles, preventing chances of any deep breathing

The Science Behind Pranayama

By expanding our breath and returning to its natural flow, we gain control of our heartbeat and brain function, bringing about a state of well-being and calm to our nervous system.

The diaphragm is the skeletal muscle at the base of the rib cage, separating the chest and abdomen. It is the main muscle used in respiration. Activating our diaphragm whilst breathing encourages full oxygen exchange – that is, a good ratio of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide

Always practice yogic breathing on an empty stomach and avoid if you are unwell or congested. Many yoga classes incorporate short pranayama as part of their program. Breathing exercises can be done before or after yoga practice.

For best results, pranayama should be practiced regularly along with your regular yoni yoga practice.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi-shodhana) 

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position. 
  • Relax your body and close your eyes. 
  • Place your left hand on your left knee.
  • Take your right index finger and right middle finger and place them on the eyebrow centre.
  • Place your right thumb above the right nostril.
  • Place your right ring finger above the left nostril.
  • Exhale completely emptying your abdomen of any air.
  • Close your right nostril with your thumb. 
  • Inhale through your left nostril until full capacity. Breathe deeply without strain.
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger.
  • Release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril keeping a smooth strain-free flow.
  • Inhale through the right nostril until full capacity. Breathe smoothly without strain. 
  • Release your ring finger.
  • Close the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril.
  • Your inhalation and exhalation should be equal. 
  • This is one cycle. Continue for 5-10 cycles.

Ujjayi Pranayama Breathing Practice

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position. 
  • Relax your body, close your eyes and do a few rounds of deep calm breathing with your mouth closed. 
  • Imagine your breath is in your throat and not your nostrils. 
  • Feel the breath being drawn in and out through the throat as if it is taking place through a small hole located at the throat.
  • Gently contract your windpipe as you inhale and exhale. This should make your breath audible. 
  • Your breathing pattern should be slow and deep. 
  • Let your stomach rise and fall with each breath. You can place your hand on your abdomen to help you gain control of your diaphragmatic breathing. 

The Takeaway

The breath is a part of the autonomic nervous system, meaning it is controlled outside of a person’s conscious awareness. But the marvel of it is that we can also consciously regulate our breath through pranayama techniques. 

Gidi Ifergan, yoga scholar and practitioner, says that pranayama improves our physical health, but also “governs our thoughts and emotions, and instead of being conditioned by them, it cultivates clarity towards discovering our real sovereign nature.” We highly recommend introducing pranayama to your regular yoni egg practice as the next step in your journey to discovering your Divine feminine self.

So next time you’re feeling stressed, draw your attention to your breath and notice the change. 

Irena is a writer and yoga teacher well-versed in all-things yoga such as yoga therapy and yin yoga. She believes in the positive effects of meditation, yoga, and spirituality
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