Yoga isn’t just about poses. In fact, originally, the poses were just one pose – seated on a cushion, whilst preparing for meditation. In the 8 limbs of yoga, prior to poses (asana), there are described breathing techniques and exercises (called pranayama, or “life energy”).
These various breathing exercises can be used to calm, relax, energise, and focus prior to practice, or included alongside the practice of asana to improve your practice in different ways.
I’m going to describe three great pranayama exercises in three different blog posts that you can use for different purposes. Nadi Shodana, which is a balancing “alternate nostril” breathing technique; Kapala Bhati, which is an energising and warming exercise using your abdominal muscles, and finally Ujahi breath, which is a constricted, focused breath to be used during asana practice.
Nadi Shodana involves using your thumb and finger to alternately close each nostril, and taking long, slow breaths, holding the breath in, and slowly exhaling through the opposite nostril to the inhale. Yogic philosophy describes this practice as balancing the two primary nadis (energy channels) that run up your spine. These two nadis are “Pingala” (masculine) and “Ida” (feminine) energy, and can become unbalanced. Through nadi shodana breathing, you balance these two energies and find yourself more calm and relaxed. Certainly, even just practising this slow and meditative breathing technique is very calming, and is a great way to relax after a stressful day, or to prepare for an evening yoga class and quiet the mind.
Sit cross-legged in sukhasana (or in an alternative comfortable position), and inhale deeply, exhale to relax, close your eyes, and fold your first two fingers of your right hand, extending the thumb and third and fourth fingers. Use your thumb to close your right nostril and inhale through the left for a count of 4. Use your finger to close your left nostril as well, and hold the breath for a count of 6. Release the right nostril, and exhale for a count of 8. Pause, then inhale again through the right nostril for a count of 4, close both nostrils, hold for 6, then release the left nostril and exhale for 8. Repeat at your own pace for anything from a minute, to 30 minutes or more.
Complete the process by exhaling through the left nostril. Open your eyes, and bathe in the newfound peace and calm.