The ultimate truth of life is simple: we all breathe. Every living being breathes involuntarily whether awake, sleeping, or actively exercising. Living means breathing. It is a vital function of life. In yoga, this is called pranayama. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning life force and ayama means extending or stretching. So, the word “pranayama” means the control of life force. It can also be translated as the extension of breath. All the cells in our bodies need oxygen to function properly. According to research, regularly practicing controlled breathing can decrease the effects of stress on the body and increase overall mental and physical health.
Did you ever pay attention to how soothing a simple sigh can be at the end of a long day? Doing pranayam is known to reduce stress, aid in digestion, improve sleep, and cool you down. The following are 3 pranayama exercises you should do and the best time to do them:
1. Nadhi Sodhana aka Anuloma Viloma
Nadhi sodhana, also called alternative nostril breathing, is a very relaxed, balancing breath that helps in calming the nervous system and lets you have a restful night’s sleep. When you increase the amount of oxygen taken into the body, this breath will purify the blood, calm the mind, reduce stress, and increase concentration.
How to do it: It can be done seated or lying down. First, let out all the air from your lungs. Use the thumb of your right hand to block your right nostril and inhale through just your left nostril. Always inhale into your belly, not your chest. Once you are full of breath, block your left nostril using the ring finger of the same hand, while keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment. Then release your thumb and exhale using only your right nostril. Make sure you exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side. Block both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side. A complete cycle of breath means inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils. If you’re a beginner, try a four-count inhale. Hold your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts. Do up to ten cycles and see the response of your body. This would relax and calm both your mind and your body.
When to do it: You can do this any time of day. Practice this technique when you feel anxious, nervous, or having trouble falling asleep.
2. Kapalabhati Pranayama
Kapalabhati translates to skull shining breath. It’s a pranayama exercise and an internal kriya, or cleansing technique. People who do kapalabhati believe that this breath clears out the mucus in the air passages, relieves congestion, reduces bloating, and improves lung capacity. Kapalabhati means an invigorating breath that builds heat in the body.
How to do it: First, sit in a comfortable seat with a tall, straight spine, and let all your breath out. Inhale briefly through both nostrils, before sharply exhaling (out of your nose) while pulling your navel in toward your spine. The exhalation should be short and quick, but very active, while the inhalation should be short and passive. Again, pull your navel in while exhaling and soften it on inhalation. Do one round of 30 (counting your exhalations) and rest for 1 min. with some deep breaths in between. Repeat this. If 30 seems difficult, start with 15 and slowly work your way up.
When to do it: The best time to do Kapalbharti is in the morning when you’re feeling chilly or sluggish. Don’t do it on a full stomach. Do not do this if you are pregnant, or suffer from blood pressure issues or heart conditions.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi translates to victorious breath and also ocean breath because of the sound it creates. This breath is often used in asana (posture) practice, particularly in ashtanga and vinyasa classes. It encourages full expansion of the lungs and assists in calming the mind.
How to do it: Find a place to sit comfortably with a straight spine. Take a steady breath through both the nostrils. Inhale until you feel full; maintain a tall spine. Hold your breath for a second, before constricting some of the breath at the back of your throat, as if you were about to whisper something, and exhale slowly through both nostrils. This exhalation sounds like an ocean wave or a gentle rush of air. You should feel the air on the roof of your mouth while exhaling. Repeat 20 times, if possible.
When to do it: Practice this breath for up to 10 minutes at any time of day.
Stay healthy, stay safe 🙂