Tag: breathing techniques

Controlled breathing

Conscious breathing: Controlled breathing and Pranayama

When was the last time you stopped and paid attention to your breath?

How aware are you, moment to moment, of the qualities of your breath? The pace, pauses and even depth of breath can change without you being aware. Your breath can adapt subconsciously, depending on the situation you’re in or how you’re feeling.

What if you could consciously breathe instead? In this post, we take you through some concepts around controlled breathing and Prāṇāyāma, and consider how it can benefit the body.

What is controlled breathing?

There are many terms for this concept.

Maybe you have heard of conscious breathing, breath control, breath work, or even regulation of the breath.

Controlled breathing or the term used in the Yogic tradition, Pranayama, involves becoming aware of their breath and maintaining this awareness for a prolonged period.

So how do we bring about awareness of the breath? And then how do we maintain our awareness for more than just a couple breaths?

Using a range of tools, Pranayama and other controlled breathing techniques have evolved. Some of these are outlined below.

What are the elements of controlled breathing?

Controlled breathing techniques are varied and have been used for thousands of years, some techniques have been lost while others have continued and new ones even “discovered”. Like some of the traditional Pranayama techniques you may have experienced in a yoga class, or perhaps you may have heard of the Wim Hof-advocated technique in recent times.

Irrespective of the technique, there are common elements used in the different types of controlled breathing, including the use of one or more of the following:

  • Using breath ratios to regulate the length of the inhale or exhale, whether through timing or counting of breaths
  • Pausing or holding the breath
  • Directing the breath through the nose, mouth or both
  • Mindfully controlling the depth of the inhale or exhale
  • Hand gestures or mudras
  • Physical postures
  • Bringing mental awareness to a particular area and/or “feeling” in the body or “internal gaze”

As you can see with the above, there are a few elements and techniques available, but why would you consider using any of these? What benefit could they provide, if any?

Why controlled breathing?

As T.K.V Desikachar mentions in the Heart of Yoga, the goal of controlled breathing techniques or elements, like breath ratios, should importantly allow us to follow the breath, to support mindful breathing.

This mindful breathing can lead us to achieve a particular effect in the body. This effect can vary however, based on the technique used, the skill of the practitioner and even the state of their own health or body.

For example, the simple alternate nostril Prāṇāyāma technique can be used to help balance the body and mind, and is generally safe for most people to use. By balancing the body and mind, controlled breathing can help to alleviate stress.

Other techniques have been found to assist with stimulating the physical body, including the regulation of blood pressure, heart rates and overall general well-being. Controlled breathing techniques have been found to even benefit mental health, such as reducing anxiety in supporting the response of the parasympathetic nervous system.

As Yoga Sutra 2.52 suggests, the ongoing practice of Pranayama or controlled breathing, can assist with “removing the veil” or obstacles that could impact one’s mind. And as T.K.V. Desikachar says, “just as the activities of the mind influence the breath, so does the breath influence our state of mind”.

Perhaps, with the next breath you take, you could notice the qualities of the breath, the elements you may be using and if time permits, see if you can make space for a few rounds of mindful and controlled breathing.

Eager to learn more?

Explore the breath on a deeper level: Learn some powerful Pranayama techniques and continue your journey of understanding the breath, or maybe even deepen your existing yoga knowledge.

Email or call us: teachertraining@yogainstitute.com.au | 0477 021 219

Get in Touch: Subscribe to our newsletter here for more news, events and articles to keep you informed.

Join us, together we will grow, learn and inspire.

Yoga class breathing technique

Balanced by your breath: Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Ever noticed how your breath changes when you’re deep in relaxation, or seems to speed up when you’re feeling excited or agitated?

That is your body’s normal response to your present environment, thoughts or feelings. What if there was a way you could use your breath to balance out how your body and mind are feeling? Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana, is an easy breathing technique you can use today to help you feel more balanced by your breath.

What is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

Alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana in the Sanskrit language, is a conscious breathing technique or form of Pranayama.

It helps to balance the body, by regulating the nervous system, which can make a difference to how your body and mind respond to the every day stresses of life. Using Nadi Shodhana as a daily practice can help with:

  • Lowering your stress levels
  • Improving your breathing overall
  • Reducing feelings of anxiety

So how do you do it?

Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing

Start by finding a comfortable place, seated in a comfortable posture that will allow you stay relatively still for a few minutes.

  1. Using your right hand, place your:
    • right thumb on your right cheek, just outside your right nostril
    • right index and middle fingers resting gently on the space between your eyebrows
    • and ring and little finger together, next to the left nostril
  2. Gently pressing the thumb on to the right nostril, exhale slowly through the left nostril
  3. Relax the thumb to open the right nostril, then gently press the ring finger against the left nostril to close and inhale
  4. Keeping the hand in the same position, exhale deeply through the right nostril
  5. Relax the ring finger to open the left nostril and gently press the thumb to close the right nostril, then inhale
  6. Keeping the hand in place, exhale deeply through the left nostril

Steps 2 – 6 are considered one round. Repeat a round of left and right alternate nostril breathing as many times as you like, though we like to suggest 18 is a good number to aim towards.

If you feel comfortable and have the rhythm of the hand and breath, you can close down the eyes as you continue through the practice.

You may also want to use the Gyan Mudra, by placing the back of the left hand on the knee and bring the index and thumb together to form a circle. Remembering to take gentle but deep and continuous breaths throughout the practice.

Other things to consider

Using alternate nostril breathing is safe for most.

If you have a pre-existing condition like asthma or low blood pressure, it is best to speak to a doctor before attempting a new breathing technique.

Keen to learn more?

Stay in Touch: Subscribe to our newsletter here for more news, events and articles to keep you informed.

Put it into practice: View our Cammeray Yoga timetable here to attend a yoga class including a range of techniques including Asana (posture), Pranayama (breathing) and meditation.

Explore yoga and the breath on a deeper level: Start your journey on expanding your experience of the breath, deepening your yoga practice or maybe even look towards becoming a yoga teacher.

The Yoga Institute acknowledges the Cammeraygal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Custodians of the land on which our centre is based.

Copyright The Yoga Institute 2024

Built by IRONIC3D in Sydney