How to Practice Yoga Breathing Techniques

How to Practice Yoga Breathing Techniques

Yoga breath control techniques known as pranayama -- meaning "to extend the vital life force” -- guide you in the proper way to inhale and exhale. They can improve your lung capacity, help reduce stress and declutter your mind. Breath control techniques run the gamut in terms of challenge, with some easy enough for children, while others work best for seasoned yoga practitioners and meditators. Initially, yoga breathing may feel forced and uneven, but over time and with practice, yogic breath will become smooth and effortless.

Technique for Beginners
Designed to help new-to-yoga practitioners become aware of and control their breathing, abdominal breath helps you relax, release stress and breathe fully. Also referred to as diaphragmatic breath, this technique allows you to change from shallow, chest breathing to deep, belly breathing. To practice this, sit tall on the floor with your legs crossed and place your palms on your stomach. While keeping your back straight, slowly inhale through your nose and use your diaphragm to push your hand forward, deeply filling your lungs. As you exhale through your nose, contract your abdominal muscles to push the air out of your lungs.

Intermediate Breathing Techniques
Three-part breath, slightly more involved than abdominal breath, encourages you how to breathe fully to fill your lungs from the bottom up. While breathing through your nose with one continuous breath, you fill up your lungs in three phases.
  • The first phase is similar to abdominal breath -- you inhale and fill up the lower portion of your lungs by using your diaphragm.
  • You continue to inhale for the second phase to expand and open up your rib cage.
  • In the third phase, you bring the air to your upper chest and lower throat. Place your hands on your abdomen, then your ribs and finally your upper chest as you practice three-part breath to be sure you perform the technique correctly. Reverse the phases when you exhale to empty all the air from your lungs.
Intermediate-to-Advanced Technique
Learn breath of fire, a technique that can strengthen your diaphragm, build lung capacity and help cleanse your respiratory system, states Anmol Mehta, a certified yoga teacher. To practice this technique -- sometimes referred to as "bellows breathing" or "cleaning breath" -- sit up tall on the floor with your legs crossed and your palms resting on your knees. Begin by breathing rapidly through your nose, similar to fast sniffing. As you breathe in and out, put the same emphasis on your inhaling as your exhaling. Keep your breath shallow and develop a steady pace and rhythm. When performed correctly, your stomach pulsates in and out in rhythm with your breath.

Ujjayi breathing, which translates as "victorious," calms your mind, increases body heat and promotes mental clarity. This technique can assist concentration and allow you to control your breathing as you move from one yoga pose to the next.

To practice ujjayi breath, start by sitting comfortably on the floor or a sturdy chair. Inhale through your nose, constrict the back of your throat slightly and direct the air along the back of your throat. As you do, try to make a soft hissing sound or a drawn-out "ha." Exhale through your mouth with the same audible sound and repeat several times. Once you can generate a smooth and continuous "ha" sound, practice with your mouth closed and exhale through your nose.