How To Breathe Like a Yogi

Breathing properly is the main goal of a yoga practice. Allowing the lower belly, chest and back, and clavicle areas to fill up with breath is an utterly fantastic way to bring fresh energy into the body. Similarly, allowing total exhalation from these areas is an excellent way to dispel negative or stagnant energy. You can see how engaging in breathing exercises would be beneficial in purifying a person’s physical body and energetic field.

The word “Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word meaning “breath restraint.” We can explore this further, knowing that restraint in this context means “control.” We can find mention of this ancient practice within the 8 Limbs of Yoga – Pranayama is the 4th limb.

The practice can involve holding the breath, engaging in controlled yogic exhales or inhales, utilizing alternate nostril breathing, inhaling passively after a forceful exhale, etc. These (and more) are all ways we can begin to introduce breath restraint (Pranayama) into daily life.

Today I wanted to talk about the two pranayama exercises that I use every morning.

  1. Kapalabhati: This sort of breathing is invigorating and warming. It helps to cleanse the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system – which can help to prevent illness and allergies. Regular practice strengthens the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This exercise also increases your body’s oxygen supply, which stimulates and energizes the brain while preparing it for meditation and work that requires high focus. HOW TO:  Begin by sitting up straight in cross-legged pose, with the spine long. Place your hands, palms up, on your knees. Gently bring the thumb and pointer fingers together, bringing the hands into ‘Chin Mudra.’ This looks like the OK symbol. With the hands resting gently and the spine erect – begin taking full breaths into the belly through the nose. The lower belly should expand fully with each slow inhale. Take a few breaths here, thinking “breathe in, belly rise; breathe out, belly fall.” When you are ready, begin to exhale through the nose with short forceful breaths, contracting the abdominal muscles. When performed correctly, this sort of exhale should result in an automatic (passive) inhale. Repeat this breathing pattern for 20-40 repetitions. 
  2. Anuloma Viloma: This variation of pranayama is also known as alternate nostril breathing.  It is considered as the best technique to handle stress, anxiety, and other mental pressures. HOW TO: Begin by sitting in the same cross-legged pose described above for Kapalabhati. Next, form ‘Chin Mudra’ with the left hand and place it gently on your left knee. The right hand will come into “Vishnu Mudra” – to form this mudra, all you have to do is curl your pointer and middle finger to the palm of your hand. The rest of the fingers are free to move around. This right hand will be actively holding the nostrils closed during this pranayama exercise while the left hand will remain on the left knee in Chin Mudra. With a tall spine, bring the left elbow to the center of the chest so your hand is directly in front of your nose. We are now ready to perform three rounds of Anuloma Viloma. Take a deep breath in through both nostrils, and then use the thumb of the right hand to gently press the right nostril shut. Exhale through the left nostril only. Keeping the right nostril shut – inhale through the left for a count of 5. With the hand still in Vishnu Mudra – use the ring finger to hold the left nostril closed (both are closed now) and retain the breath to a count of 20. After 20 counts – release the right nostril and exhale fully to a count of 10. You are now going to breathe in through the right nostril for 5 counts, close both and hold for 20, then release the left nostril and exhale for 10. That was one round of Anuloma Viloma – repeat this two more times.

I have listed the steps of Anuloma Viloma below for quick reference. Repeat the steps below three times or more.

  1. Inhale both nostrils, exhale only left nostril. (free breath to prepare)
  2. Inhale only left side for 5 counts.
  3. Close both and hold for 20 counts.
  4. Keeping left side closed – exhale only right for 10 counts.
  5. Keep left side closed and inhale only right side for 5 counts.
  6. Close both and hold for 20 counts.
  7. Keep right side closed and exhale only left for 10 counts.
  8. Round one complete.

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