5 Pranayama Practices for Beginners
Want to deepen your yoga practice with yogic breathing? Here are 5 simple Pranayama practices to get you started…
Pranayama, the practice of yogic breathing, has been used for a variety of different purposes since ancient times. In fact, some refer to Pranayama practices as the foundation of all yoga disciplines. Some use breath control as a way to calm the mind, regulate energy, or modulate the body’s functions.
Pranayama may be used both on and off the yoga mat, and while most types of yoga do focus on breath to some extent, certain types such as Kundalini yoga focus heavily on various Pranayama practices.
There are a number of different breath techniques, and each has its own particular benefits. If you are new to Pranayama, you will want to start slow, and pay attention to how you feel as you practice. Try a new breathing technique for one minute at a time, and slowly increase as you become accustomed to the practice.
When practicing Pranayama techniques, you will want to sit comfortably with a straight spine. You can sit in Lotus Pose, Easy Pose, on your heels in Rock Pose, or even sit on a chair with both feet on the floor.
If you are trying out a new breathing technique, practice for 1 minute and see how you feel. Once you feel comfortable with this amount of time, you can increase slowly on your own.
Below are 5 Pranayama practices for beginners to start with. These exercises are suitable for yogis of all levels, but they are simple enough to not be intimidating to those new to the practice of Pranayama.
1.) Dirgha Pranayama
Dirgha pranayama is the complete yogic breath, also called “three-part breath”. It utilizes the three major parts of the lungs to breathe deeply and fully… Dirgha pranayama stimulates the sacral, solar plexus, heart and throat chakras.
This breath is especially useful for chest breathers who may be limiting their fullest lung capacity. In dirgha, it is important to expand the belly, ribs and chest as you breathe to create more airflow to the lungs. The goal in this breath is to expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale.
Dirgha breath calms the mind, releases tension throughout the whole body, and improves digestion.
Come into a seated position on your mat with your spine tall. Relax your abdomen and place one hand over the belly. Inhale through the nostrils and feel the belly press against the palm. As you exhale, bring the belly back into the spine and expel all the air out through the nose. Repeat several times to expand the lower lungs.
Next, place both hands on the right and left rib cage. As you inhale, expand the entire abdomen from the lower belly to the solar plexus. Fill the both the lower and middle part of the lungs, then exhale out all of the air. Repeat several times.
Finally, place one hand on the chest right below the collar bones. Breathing in, expand the belly, ribs, and chest. Fill up the lungs completely, then gently contract the lungs on the exhale to squeeze all of the air out.
Dirgha breath should be practiced for at least 5 – 10 minutes at a time to achieve relaxation and peace of mind.
2. Ujjayi Pranayama
Directly translated from Sanskrit, ujjayi pranayama means “victory breath”. It is performed by slightly constricting the glottis muscle in the back of the throat to create a gentle hissing noise.
Ujjayi creates a peaceful sound, much like what you would hear if you were to put a seashell up to your ear. It’s almost as if you are echoing the ocean through your breath. This sound calms the mind and increases concentration. It is a great tool to use in any type of meditation.
To practice engaging this throat muscle, exhale through the mouth and pretend to fog up a mirror. Repeat this several times on both the inhale and exhale to feel the glottis contract.
When you are ready, come into a seated position on your mat and start with dirgha pranayama for several rounds. Continue to breathe through the nose, and gently contract the back of the throat on both the inhalation and exhalation. As you repeat, explore making the sounds louder and softer. Concentrate on the sound and the sensation in the back of the throat.
Ujjayi breath should be performed slowly for several minutes. Pause after your pranayama practice and notice what has shifted inside you since the beginning. This breath is especially stimulating and cleansing for the throat chakra.
Similarly to dirgha, ujjayi pranayama should be practiced for at least 5-10 minutes during a sitting period.
Kapalabhati pranayama literally means “skull shining breath”. It is more active and fire-inducing than dirgha or ujjayi, and you may feel like you have more energy afterward. In Kundalini yoga, this practice is known as “Breath of Fire.”
Kapalabhati is great for toning the abdomen and clearing out the sinuses. It also stimulates the chakras of the face and third eye.
Begin in a seated position. Take a few clearing breaths to center yourself. Place one hand on your solar plexus over the upper abdomen. Deeply inhale through the nostrils and expand the belly into your hand.
Exhale sharply through the nose and squeeze the belly button in towards the spine. Allow the lungs to fill up naturally and quickly on the inhale, then exhale sharply again. Repeat these quick inhales and forceful exhales at a steady pace 20 times.
Make sure that you are taking in enough air on the inhale and squeezing out all the air on the exhale. If you feel light-headed, slow down and return to a normal breath for several minutes. Otherwise, continue with kapalabhati pranayama for two more rounds.
This is an excellent breath to perform before a more rigorous yoga practice.
It is best to start with 1 minute of kapalabhati. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can slowly increase 1 minute at a time.
4. Nadi Shodhana
Nadi shodhana pranayama is a type of alternate nostril practice, translated as the “channel-purifying breath”.
See this post for full instructions.
Repeat this breath for 2 minutes to start out with. If you want more, you can practice up to 10 minutes… This breath calms the mind and helps you concentrate on a deeper level.
5. Simha Pranayama
Easily the most animated of all the yogic breaths, simha pranayama is also known as “lion’s breath”. This energetic pranayama improves circulation in the body and also relieves facial tension.
Energetically, lion’s breath activates the throat chakra.
Begin in Rock Pose, sitting on your heels. Take a few deep inhales and exhales to cleanse the lungs and sinuses. On your next exhale, open your mouth and stick your tongue out as you make a “haaaa” sound with the back of your throat. Bring your eyes up to your third eye and stretch all the muscles in the face as you exhale.
Inhale deeply again without stretching the face, and exhale while sticking your tongue out and stretching the face again. Perform lion’s breath for 5 rounds then pause and notice how you feel.
5-10 rounds, or 1 minute, of simha pranayama is great for any type of meditation or before asana practice.
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