Breathing is one of those bodily functions you don't need to think about, it just happens. And thank goodness!
But...there are certain times when focusing on your breath, how you're breathing, how long you're breathing, and controlling your breath can actually help your brain, body, and belly.
Pranayama, is the practice of breath control in yoga. In modern yoga as exercise, it consists of synchronizing the breath with movements between asanas (or poses), but is also a distinct breathing exercise on its own, usually practiced after asanas (poses).
You control the timing, duration, and frequency of every breath and hold. The goal of pranayama is to connect your body and mind. It also supplies your body with oxygen while removing toxins. This is meant to provide healing physiological benefits.
Here are 5 of my favorite pranayama/breathing exercises:
Square Breathing - I've found that this is the simplest exercise in controlling your breath. You begin by inhaling, filling the lungs, for a count of 4. You then hold this breath at the top for 4 counts. Then fully exhale for 4 counts, holding at the bottom for 4 counts. 4-4-4-4. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.
Ujjayi Breathing or Ocean Breath - is a soft, whispering breath that is compared to the sound of the wind through the trees or the waves coming to shore. I often times call it the Darth Vader breath. You begin by touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, relaxing the jaw. Then breath in through the throat, this will make that ocean or wave sound. Ujjayi breathing instills endurance and builds energy.
Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing - This translates as “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” Alternate Nostril Breathing can have a profound impact on your body, mind, and nervous system. Not only does it carry a larger supply of oxygen to the blood than regular breathing, Nadi Shodhana soothes the nerves, helps to quiet the mind, and balances the subtle energy of the body. To begin, you bring your pointer and middle finger to palm, then lifting the hand with the palm facing the face, place the thumb against on nostril, gently pressing it in. Take a breath in, release the thumb from the nostril and close the opposite nostril with the ring finger, to exhale. Maintain this position and take an inhale. Then open the nostril and close the opposite, exhaling. Continue this pattern.
Kapalbhati or Skull Shining Breath - This type of breathing warms the body, it consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and navel), which push air out of the lungs. It improves blood circulation and digestion. It is known to help with weight loss since it increases your metabolic rate rapidly.
Sitali or Cooling Breath - This is a breath practice that cools the body and has a calming effect on the nervous system. You simply curl the sides of your tongue and breathe in through your mouth. You will instantly feel a cooling sensation.
Give one or all 5 a try! And hey, even taking just a minute out of your day to sit quietly and simply focus on your breath can truly be life-changing! Trust me, I do it everyday!