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4 Styles of Yoga Breathing Explained

4 Pranayama Techniques to Help You Breathe Easy

In yoga, pranayama is considered the art of breathing, and knowing different pranyama techniques will help support a strong practice and get you feeling all kinds of awesome. Because the Sanskrit can be a little confusing, here are explanations of four pranayama techniques to help you on your way to better breathing.

  1. Ujjayi pranayama: Integral to Ashtanga and many a Vinyasa class, ujjayi breathing (the victorious breath) consists of a gentle breath that is both relaxed and energized, allowing for a balance. Ujjayi pranayama sounds simple enough, in and out through your nose, but on each exhale, you should attempt to make the sound of an ocean wave in the back of your throat. It's important that you're not trying to ingest more air, but shift the quality of your breath. Ujjayi breathing is one of the only pranayama techniques that is practiced simultaneously with asanas (postures.)
  2. Kapalabhati pranayama: Kapalabhati is known as the skull-shining breath for good reason. It may feel a little funky at first, but once you get the hang of it, your head and body will both feel far lighter than when you first sat on your mat. To begin, start with a deep inhale and forcefully exhale — drawing all the air out of your belly. After your next full inhale, begin to exhale forcefully out through your nose 15 to 30 times quickly without taking an inhale; actively draw your belly in with each percussive exhale. After you've completed a full cycle of 15 to 30 quick exhales, passively inhale and exhale for a few breaths and enjoy before another round. I like to do three or four rounds of kapalabhati to make sure my skull is ready to shine!

    Get two more pranayama techniques, after the jump.

  3. Nadhi sodahana pranayama: Allowing for great expansion of our lungs and equal breath through both nostrils, nadhi sodahana prayanama — aka alternative nostril breathing — is a great way to kick off a strong practice. To begin, put your hand in the position it would take if you were trying to hitch a ride (all your fingers in a clenched fist, except for your thumb sticking out.) Use your thumb to close the right side of your nose. Inhale deeply through the left nostril and hold your breath. Close your left nostril and exhale through the right. In the same pattern, breathe in deeply through your right nostril and hold. Then close the right nostril and exhale through the left. Repeat for 15 to 20 times.
  4. Sithali pranayama: When I was first getting into a yoga practice, I learned about sithali pranayama on a hot Summer day, and I will be forever grateful. It is a cooling breath that has an immediate effect on your entire body's temperature. Begin by curling up your tongue into a tube-like passage. Inhale through your mouth (keeping your tongue just like this!), then close your mouth and hold your breath for five to 10. Exhale slowly through your nose. Repeat for 15 to 20 times — or whenever you feel sufficiently cooled off! This is a great quick fix if you're feeling superhot or sticky and need to take a Child's Pose for a little relief.

Any other pranayama techniques you'd like explained? Add in the comments below!

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