When most people think of yoga, they think of the asanas, or poses. Downward Facing Dog. Cobra. Warrior II. The poses are great and I love them (they’re what first drew me to the practice), but what makes them truly yoga is the attention and awareness of breath. This breath control is called pranayama.
So why is breathing so important? I mean, we all know we need to breathe to stay alive, right? That’s a given. But in yoga, breath is important to control prana or vital energy. The more we can control and direct this energy, the more empowered we can be with our body, thoughts, emotions, reactions. When breath is steady, the mind is steady. *sign me up*
And there is a technique to breathing to get the most bang for your buck. I mean, why breathe basic when you can reap so many more benefits doing something you need to do anyway? First, you’ll want to get more than just your shoulders and upper chest moving. That’s shallow and not doing you too many favors. As you inhale think about filling up the upper chest, ribcage and your entire abdomen. Second, as you exhale you want to really eliminate all of the old air. Like use those abs to contract a bit and push the air out. It sounds like a lot, but with practice it becomes second nature. Just think: inhale and belly expands, exhale and belly contracts.
Now that you’re a pro at that, let me teach you a pranayama that I love called Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. This is so good for balancing the ida and pingala - the energy channels or nadis that flow and criss-cross throughout your body.
☀️Ida = right energy channel, right hemisphere of the brain, solar (masculine) energy, warm, stimulating
🌙Pingala = left energy channel, left hemisphere of the brain, lunar (feminine) energy, cool, nurturing
Get it now? NADI shodhana! The Sanskrit translation is literally “nadi cleansing”. Anyway, benefits to this cleansing breath include:
‣ bringing the two energy channels and the traits they govern into balance
‣ reducing stress and anxiety
‣ giving you a sense of peace and calm
‣ supporting lung function (like all pranayama)
‣ helping with focus and concentration
‣ calming the mind and body (great to do before going to sleep if your mind races like mine)
Here’s how to do it:
‣ sit up nice and tall so you have room to breathe in fully
‣ left hand rests comfortably and right hand comes up to your face. I like to bring my first and middle fingers to my third eye (the space between the eyebrows, where the nadis meet) with my thumb hovering over the right nostril and ring finger hovering over the left nostril.
‣ take a couple of deep, centering breaths to begin
‣ close the right nostril and inhale through the left for four counts, hold for a moment
‣ close the left nostril and release the right as you exhale for four counts, hold for a moment
‣ inhale through the right nostril for four counts, hold for a moment
‣ close the right nostril and release the left as you exhale for four counts, hold for a moment
‣ repeat for as many cycles feel right to you
Need a video? I’ve got you covered HERE.
You can also apply this knowledge to see which nadi and energy is dominant. If you’re breathing more through the right nostril, try some calming yoga poses. If you’re breathing more through the left nostril, try some invigorating yoga poses. And pay attention to your mindset and actions too. It’s pretty (third) eye opening when you start to notice how everything is all connected.
Want to read more about this? Here are some resources I use: