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Just Breathe

How Deep Breathing Techniques and Ujjayi Breath Connect the Body to the Mind

When you attended you first yoga class, you may have been surprised at the deliberation of the breath and how much the breath was tied into movement. Not only does full breathing deepen relaxation, it provides a natural pace to guide you through a series of poses. Breathe in, Tadasana. Exhale, Standing Forward Bend. Inhale, Half Lift. Exhale, Chaturanga. Yogic breathing is called Pranayama. In Sanskrit, Pranayama means 'extension of the life force'. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs described in the Yoga Sutras. Sutra 2.49: After perfection of posture is achieved, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. This is pranayama. In the Sutras, four types of pranayama are described: inhalation, exhalation, transition, and the fourth pranayama "is that continuous prana which surpasses, is beyond, or behind the others." (Yoga Sutras 2.51)


So how does Pranayama help our bodies, exactly? Our breath carries oxygen to all parts of our bodies. Have you ever had a panic attack marked by hyperventilation? When you breathe hard and fast, you are consuming excess carbon dioxide, the body thinks oxygen levels are low and blood vessels dilate, carrying more oxygen into the blood cells and bodily tissue. The effects are lightheadedness and an increased overall state of well being. It is invigorating! Bhastrika yoga or Bhastrika pranayama employs voluntary hyperventilation. It brings about energy in a natural way.


In contrast, deep and controlled breathing helps to quiet the mind and as a result, we find deliberation and self control, which in turn leads to increased self esteem. Slow and deep breathing opens up the parasympathetic nervous system. The result is ultimate relaxation. Try it yourself: find a calm, comfortable spot. Place a bolster or pillow under the glutes and make sure the room is darkened and free from distractions. Turn the cell phone, tv, radio off. Once you are comfortable, take a long, deep breath through your nose, slowly counting to ten and completely emptying the air, pressing through the diaphragm. Once fully exhaled, remain still and hold the breath for about three seconds. Now, slowly begin to exhale through a partially opened mouth -- slowly and deliberately. Make sure you are pressing through the diaphragm, slowly yet completely emptying it out. Repeat this cycle about five times with the eyes closed. Once you open your eyes, you will notice a marked physiological change in your body. You can carry this relaxation tool with you wherever you go -- in the car (just make sure to pull over), in the office, at the grocery store, or wherever you may be feeling a little too much tension.

Ujjayi Breath

You may hear your yoga teacher pressing you to "encourage others with the breath". We hear our fellow yogis in class making loud, gushing exhales and wonder, "What does this mean and why? And how are they actually doing this? Ujjayi breath literally translates into "victorious breath". Ujjayi breathing is conducted through the nose (both inhaling and exhaling), creating an ocean-like sound of crashing waves. It is diaphragmatic breathing: air fills the diaphragm and slowly moves up to the ribcage, finally exiting through the nasal airway -- which is narrowed, creating the loud, soothing sound we hear in studios. Ujjayi technique is both relaxing and energizing. It is an integral tool in meditation and builds body heat, warming the muscles and allowing the body to achieve full range of motion. Plus, a deliberate Ujjayi breath will help the practitioner move in accordance to their natural bodily rhythms when they link asanas to the breath. It is also believed to encourage the body to release toxins as well as lowering blood pressure.

By: Amber Jennings (G+)

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