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Pranayama, The Breath

Breathing Techniques

What does it mean to follow your breath in yoga?

The breath is the thread between body and mind – it is the foundation of one's yoga practice. When your body and breath work together, movement requires far less energy and effort.

An inhalation naturally expands the belly and ribs and, with proper alignment, will lengthen the spine and encourage expansion. An exhalation naturally contracts the abdomen and torso and encourages retraction.

In general, you inhale when you move into a pose, move against gravity, create upward movements or arch the spine. You exhale as you move out of a posture, move with gravity, create downward movements or round the spine.

For example, in Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)

  • Inhale, arms up

  • Exhale, forward fold

  • Inhale, halfway lift

  • Exhale, high to low plank

  • Inhale, updog or cobra

  • Exhale, down dog

  • Take three breaths (pause)

  • Inhale, look forward

  • Exhale, step or jump to the top of your mat

  • Inhale, halfway lift

  • Exhale, forward fold

  • Inhale, arms up

  • Exhale, hands to heart center

Abdominal breathing

a.k.a. Belly Breathing, Diaphragmatic Breathing.

As its name suggests, this technique focuses feeling your breath in your abdomen – however, the breath will actually not “go” into your belly/abdomen, rather your diaphragm (a dome-shaped muscle found between the lungs and heart from the digestive and reproductive organs) causes your belly to move in and out. When the diaphragm contracts, the top of the dome is pulled downward, which simultaneously (1) creates space in the thoracic cavity for the lungs to expand and take in air (inhale) and (2) expands down into the abdominal cavity causing the belly to expand. When the diaphragm relaxes, the dome shape returns causing the ribcage to contract and the lungs to shrink, pushing the air out (exhale).


· Enhanced blood oxygenation

· Decreased stress

· Improved pain tolerance

· Decreased reports of anger and depression

· Enhanced gut health


Laying down in Savasana with a bolster under your knees, bring awareness to your breath. Relax your ribcage and belly completely. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Allow the breath to flow freely into and out of your lungs, feeling the subsequent expansion and contraction of your belly with each inhale and exhale.

Yogic breathing

a.k.a. Three-Part Breath, Complete Breath. Sanskrit: Dirga Pranayama


Dirga Pranayama will help you to settle into the space to begin your yoga practice, calm your mind, reduce anxiety, and encourage fresh oxygen to flow through your body to leave you feeling cleansed and detoxified

-Chopra Center website


Sit in a comfortable seated position, close eyes, place one hand on your belly. Inhale slowly, feeling the belly expand first, then allowing the breath to fill up through the rib cage and then the top of the chest feeling the collar bones widen. Exhale reversing the process, starting at the top, allowing the chest to release and then the ribs and belly constrict. Continue to allow your breath to move through the body in this manner, filling up from the bottom and releasing from the top, for 5-10 rounds of breath.

Breath Retention

Sanskrit: Kumbhaka

Joined with Samavritti (equal inhales and exhales) or Ujjayi breathing, the breath is held following the inhale (Antara Kumbhaka) ORfollowing the exhale (Bahya Kumbhaka). Retention of breath should NEVER be performed on consecutive breaths, there should ALWAYS be at least 2-3 rounds of breath between each retention.

As you begin, the duration of retention could be 1/3-1/2 the duration of the inhale/exhale and the intervals between retention could be 5-6 rounds of breath. As you continue the practice, after several weeks or longer, you may begin to extend the duration of retention or decrease the intervals between each retention.

It is believed that regular practice of Kumbhaka can strengthen the diaphragm, restore energy and cleanse the respiratory system.

Ujjayi breathing

a.k.a. Victorious Breath, Ocean Breath, Darth Vader breath.

This method of breathing conjures the sound of waves breaking on the shore or the wind through the trees of a forest. Ujjayi Pranayama is warming and cleansing, it can energize as well as calm and balance. Unlike other breathing techniques, which are typically performed while seated or lying down, ujjayi is performed throughout your physical practice in every pose.


· Increases the amount of oxygen in the blood

· Builds internal body heat

· Relieves tension

· Encourages free flow of prana

· Regulates blood pressure

· Helps yoga practitioner to maintain a rhythm while they practice

· Builds energy

· Detoxifies mind and body

· Increases feelings of presence, self-awareness, and meditative qualities


Inhale through the nose, exhale as though you are trying to fog up a mirror, with a "HAAAAAAAA" sound, take notice of the feeling in your throat and vocal chords, attempt to maintain that sensation on your inhales and exhales. Gently seal lips, inhale through the nose, and exhale through the nose with the same feeling in the throat. Allow the breath to be smooth and continuous, with no pauses.

In all of these techniques, listen and respect to your body. Just as forcing your body to go farther into an asana will result in injury – forcing the body to hold a breath or take a longer or deeper inhale/exhale will actually be counterproductive, stressing the body and increasing cortisol levels.


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