Breath work is an invaluable tool for yoga teachers. Pranayama techniques use breathing to fully maximize each cavity in our bodies. Retention of the breath, focused exhalations, and the pauses in between allow the body to flood fresh prana (life force) throughout our system.
Pranayama practices can invigorate or relax the body. Practicing pranayama outside of yoga classes or meditation may take some getting used to at first, yet incorporating breath practices at work and home make a huge impact.
In between meetings, a few minutes after lunch, or when you get home from a busy day. Just a few minutes of deep breathing techniques can quiet the autonomic nervous system and calm your mind. Try these three pranayama techniques, and teach it to your students!
1. Nadi Shodana
Alternate Nose Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is an ancient yoga practice that balances the nervous system. The left side associated with the parasympathetic (relaxation action), and the right side with the sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze response). By regulating the breath through the left nostril and right nostril, the body is well balanced and right and left brain synchronize.
Nadi in Sanskrit means “channel” and Shodhana means “purification”. By practicing Nadi Shodhana our channels are more open, unclogged and with less congestion. A range of benefits happen as a way to bring equilibrium, treat a headache, stress, or even bring a little more lightness to your day.
For beginners, sitting in a comfortable seated position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose) with your sit bones higher than your knees helps to make more space to sit comfortably. A general rule is to start on the left side, left-nostril breathing decreases your heart rate.
Use your right hand ring finger to close your left nostril, and your right thumb to block your right nostril. The index and middle finger can fold in your palm. Close your right nostril, inhale through your left nostril for five counts. Close the left nostril with ring finger, and exhale through your right nostril for five counts. Alternate between the two sides open and closing, and add retention. You can practice retaining the breath for five counts, and gradually increase.
Nadi Shodhana is a useful breathing technique to incorporate into your yoga classes. It can lift the mood and vibe of the class, and is great to do in preparation for meditation.
Bhramari translates to the sounds of the bees. Bhramari (Bee Breath), for beginners an audible practice, with the mouth closed uses vibration to create a soothing sound. The gentle buzzing sound can quiet the chitta (mind chatter) that tends too loop in our thoughts that leads to sufferring. A way to alleviate, or shift perspective happens with the Bee Breath practice.
Also calming to the autonomic nervous system, Bhramari is a therapeutic practice that especially helps those with throat issues, sinus congestion and maintaining peace of mind. For yoga teachers, having a strong awareness of the technique will make you more confidant to teach the pranayama practice to your yoga students.
To practice, sit comfortably on blankets, yoga blocks, a meditation cushion, or anything that suits you. A chair is too a good prop to use. To direct your senses inward, close the eyes and center with a few deep inhalations and exhalations. At you last exhalation, fully exhale all the air out and take a deep inhale. On the exhale, begin making a gentle buzzing sound as you exhale to four counts. The sound should be soothing, and originate from deep in the throat as possible. When you exhale all of your air, inhale slowly to four counts. Continue to repeat the breathing cycle. Exhale, buzzing until you release all your breath, and inhale slowly. Notice on the exhalations, the vibration originating low in your throat, reverberating at the roof of your mouth, and up to your brain.
With practice, your thoughts will become absorbed by the sound vibrating inside. Build up to practicing Bhramari for one to five minutes is ideal. As the practice progresses, using your fingers to block the ears and eyes deepens the benefits of Bhramari.
Ujjayi in Sanskrit translates to victorious, and is compared with the sound of the ocean. As part of your asana practice or with retention for a seated breathing pratice, Ujjayi breathing assists with tuning your senses inward. The audible sound in the beginning, helps to focus on the breath. So much can be told from listening to your students breathing, and a reminder to keep the victorious breath during yoga class is something to encourage.
When Ujjayi is engaged, the pelvis is better supported because of its relationship with the diapham. On inhalation, the pelvic floor and diaphragm descend down toward the ground. On exhalation, the pelvic floor and diaphragm ascend up. This focused breathing leads to lower back and pelvis support.
Another pranayama practice that opens up the channels and releases blockages, Ujjayi breathing centralizes your focus during asana practice. The sound of the ocean breathing reduces your attention on other distracting sounds that may be in the room.
To practice first, sit in any comfortable position. Take a few grounding breaths. Begin by inhaling through your nose and exhale out of your mouth making the sound “ha” for 4 counts. After a few rounds, inhale through your nose, and on the exhale keep the mouth shut as you create that same audible exhale through your nostrils. Notice the action at the back of your throat. As your vocal cords narrow you can regulate the amount of breath moving in and out, similar to the mechanism of a hose nozzle. Practice Ujjayi for a minute or two, and become aware of its power.
Pranayama techniques are profound impacts on the overall health of your mind and body. Remember to take time to teach breathing exercises during your yoga class, often the asana is the only focus. For yoga to be of the most benefit, learning to use the power of the breath to shift stagnant energy better supports your healthiest version.
Desirée McKenzie is a yoga teacher and writer. She trained 500+ hours as a Vinyasa Yoga Teacher in 2007, and is a certified Thai Yoga Bodywork Specialist since 2014. Her blended training in the wellness realm create classes that soothe, nourish and strengthen the body. Desirée continues to deepen her yoga studies, focusing on anatomy. She is grateful to have learned the ancient healing practices that maintain equanimity and grace.