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What is Yoga Breathing?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Yoga breathing refers to a specific respiratory pattern used to enhance the effect of yoga. Also known as pramayana, there are several types of yoga breathing that may be used in different situations. Although many people think of yoga as simply an exercise form, it is also a meditative practice that is meant to involve the entire body and mind, including the respiratory system. By using yoga breathing, yoga experts believe that a practice can be deepened and enhanced.

Breathing is the bodily function that allows oxygen to reach every part of the body and carbon dioxide to be expelled. By consciously focusing on the breath, pramayana can increase and regulate the flow of oxygen, as well as make the practitioner more aware of his or her body. Pramayana can even help improve posture, since many people slouch, which collapses their lungs and reduces their oxygen capacity. Many yoga classes begin and end with several minutes of yoga breathing exercises to help prepare and cool down from the practice.

There are several different kinds of yoga breathing. One of the most common is the three-part breath. First, the student takes a deep breath through the nose, trying to pull air deep into the belly area. Then, the air is exhaled through the nose, pulling navel to the spine to squeeze out all the air. After several repetitions, the student performs the second part of the breath by inhaling into the belly completely, then adding another inhale that expands the rib cage. The third part of the breath includes a third inhale that fills the upper chest with air, inflating the whole respiratory system with oxygen.

Breath of fire is a type of pramayana that is often used to enhance core exercises and strengthen abdominal muscles. To perform this exercise, the practitioner first inhales deeply through the nose, then exhales in five short bursts, each propelled by pulsing the navel toward the spine. After repeating a few times, the inhale is then performed the same way as the exhale; five short, sharp pulses to inhale, then five sharp exhales.

Ujjayi breath, also called the ocean breath, is one of the most useful forms of yoga breathing. A person deeply inhales through the mouth, then exhales the same way, relaxing the top of the throat so that the passageway narrows and breath comes out with an audible sound. Once the throat relaxation is practiced several times, the practitioner keeps the soft palette relaxed and breathes in and out through the nose, making a sound like that of the ocean. The narrowing of the throat allows the practitioner to direct the breath firmly, helping him or her relax deeper into difficult poses and stretches.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Dec 02, 2014

I love doing pramayana at the end of my yoga routine. I especially like the one which is done by inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through another. It's so relaxing! I believe it slows down breathing, which in turn slows down other functions in the body, including mental activity. Sometimes I do it in my office in the middle of the work day when I need a time out. It refreshes me, helps me relax and focus again on my work.

By serenesurface — On Dec 02, 2014

@bear78-- There are yoga CDs or videos that you could use at home. If you need someone to tell you to breathe, then using one of these instructional materials at home would work. I think that if you once get into the habit of breathing regularly during the movements, you won't have to be reminded after a while. If you know the postures by heart, concentrate on your breathing rather than your movement.

By bear78 — On Dec 01, 2014

We are supposed to breathe in specific ways throughout yoga asanas, or postures. I've been to yoga classes and teacher specifically tell when to breathe in and out while doing a posture. I do okay in class, but when I'm practicing yoga on my own, I never get the breathing right. I tend to hold on to my breath or I just breathe at the wrong time in a posture.

A yoga teacher once told me that breathing correctly during yoga makes a huge difference. Not doing it right means that we are not benefiting enough. Some yoga teachers even believe that correct breathing during yoga is essential for releasing energy and not doing it can increase the risks of injury and prevent relaxation. I just don't know how to fix my breathing. I need someone to literally tell me when to breathe in and out. Even when I'm in class sometimes, I get so caught up on doing the posture right that I don't even realize that I'm holding my breath.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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