What is Pranayama & How to Use Breathing as a Tool for Health & Well-Being

A modern approach on an ancient technique

How you are breathing matters.

 

Breathing is essential for your body’s metabolism. It is the only way to bring oxygen to your cells & it helps to regulate organ health & function.

 

You can go through life allowing your breathing to happen automatically – the body is pretty incredible at keeping you alive without your conscious intervention.

OR

You can learn how to leverage aspects of the breathing process to put the brain in specific states & create the energy you desire.

 

This brings us to the yogic term – Pranayama.

 

What is pranayama?

Pranayama is a Sanskrit term, often used to describe breathing practices.

But, the essence of the word means “to harness one’s life force” or “to expand one’s vital energy.”

Pretty cool right?!

Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of Yoga. It teaches us how to harness our life force energy by learning how to control the breathing process.

 

When I say “life force energy” – what I mean is learning how to better control:

  • How you feel in your body

  • How much energy you have access to

  • How you manage life’s ups & downs

  • How you bounce back after the tough times

  • How much gratitude & appreciation you feel

  • How connected you feel to others & the world around you

  • How you express yourself

 

Harnessing your prana is about being the pilot, not just a passenger.

 

There are many ways to do this, but for the purpose of keeping this simple & practical for our modern lifestyles, I’m going to focus on 3 modifications we can make with the breath:

👉🏼 DURATION

👉🏼 DEPTH

👉🏼 RATIO
 

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PRANAYAMA BREATHING DURATION

How often do you inhale & exhale within 60 seconds?

 

Did you know that faster breathing increases your heart rate & can lead to high blood pressure?

Whereas, slower breathing will lower your heart rate & blood pressure.

 

 

The best way to practice slowing down how often you go through the breathing cycle is to practice 3-part Diaphragmatic Breathing.

Also known as Dirgha Pranayama – this breathing practice teaches you how to get the breath down into your abdomen which will allow you to fully use your diaphragm as you breathe

 

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing or Dirgha Pranayama:

  • Brings us back to how our bodies are meant to breathe

  • Turns on natural “relaxation response” – regulates the heart rate & allows body to digest more efficiently

  • Relieves muscle tension & calms the mind

To learn more about diaphragmatic breathing & how to practice it,

click here.

 

 

PRANAYAMA BREATHING DEPTH

How deep you are breathing influences how you feel in your body.

For example:

If you are taking shallow breaths up into your chest, this puts the body-mind in a constant state of alert & you are more likely to feel anxious & tense.

If you are breathing slowly & deeply into your abdomen, you are more likely to feel at ease & peaceful.

Certain pranayama practices train you how to better utilize your breathing instruments, which allow you to deepen your breath.

 

Some of the most effective & beginner-friendly practices are:

 

Ujjayi (oo-jai-ee) Pranayama

In this practice, you create a slight restriction in the back of the throat, so as you breathe it feels like you’re “fogging up a mirror.” Beginners can practice using the mouth, but eventually you want to progress to only using your nose.

 

Benefits of ujjayi include:

  • Quiets mental energy

  • Internally heats the body

  • Allows breath to be slow & smooth, which helps to build cardiovascular endurance

 

To learn more about this technique & how to practice it, check out the YouTube video here.

 

Nadi Shodhana aka “Alternate Nostril Breathing”

In this practice, you use your hands to plug one nostril then breathe in through the open nostril. Then switch nostrils, and exhale out the other. Then alternate. It teaches you to streamline the breath through a single airway, which will strengthen your breathing instruments.

 

Benefits of Nadi Shodhana include:

  • Soothes & calms nerves

  • Lowers heart rate & reduces stress

  • Synchronizes the 2 hemispheres of the brain

  • Balances energy

  • Purifies energy channels

 

To learn more about Nadi Shodhana & how to practice this technique, click here to watch the YouTube video.

 

 

PRANAYAMA BREATHING RATIO

The ratio of inhales to exhales will determine whether you increase or decrease energy & heat in the body.

 

There are many ways to do this, but to keep it simple, here’s the most basic equation:

Focus on Inhales = Increase energy & heat, create reactive & anxious states of mind

Focus on Exhales = Decrease energy & heat, create calm & peaceful states of mind

 

Now, there are times in life when you need an increase in energy. For example, you are about to give a speech, or you need energy to focus on a test.

In times like these, using techniques like Bhastrika or Kapalabhakti can be very beneficial.

These “overbreathing” techniques require an active pumping of the abdomen to will yourself to breathe heavily for short & intense amounts of time.

 

We don’t want to use this type of breathing all the time, but this conscious heavy breathing creates a disruption within our systems that will help snap us out of a funk, so we can become pilots of our nervous system instead of just passengers.

Learning how to actively use your abdomen as you breathe is also extremely helpful for burning abdominal fat & increasing core strength.

This is something I teach in great detail in my online course BreathCore.

 

The opposite of these overbreathing techniques are cooling & calming practices that focus on longer exhales.

The most effective of these being:

Bhramari Pranayama aka “Humming Bee Breath”

This practice uses a humming sound on the exhale to soothe the nerves & release stress. It is very beneficial for lowering blood pressure, quieting the mind & reducing insomnia.

To learn more about Bhramari, watch this YouTube video.

 

 

Sitali Pranayama aka “Cooling Breath”

In this practice, you inhale cool air through a taco tongue or through the teeth, & exhale the warm air out your nose. It only takes a few rounds to start to feel the cooling & calming effects.

To learn more about Sitali, watch this YouTube video.

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning how to better manage your own states of being.

Breath work is a powerful tool, but the only way to reap the benefits is by practicing.

 

If you’re new to pranayama & are unsure where to begin, here’s how I invite you to begin:

  • Choose one of the techniques above.

  • Pick a duration of time everyday that you will commit to practicing – I like to start with 1 minute a day, then progress to 3-5 minutes a day.

  • Then show up & practice it for 10 days in a row.

 

Notice how just 10 days can make an impact on your energy levels & your mood.

After a solid 10 day practice of one technique, pick another practice & repeat the process.

 

Pranayama is such a powerful practice, after only a few days, you will already start to feel more connected to your inner energy & in control of your own life.

 

Cheers to having the right tools ✌🏻

-Jessi Rose

Hi I’m Jessi,

For the past 10 years, I’ve been teaching yoga as a tool to help people reframe their relationship with movement. Yoga changed my life – it rescued me from cycles of chronic pain & anxiety attacks. And now, the mindfulness of yoga is a foundation of everything I teach.

As a Holistic Fitness Trainer, my goal is to inspire people to love their bodies, so they can live pain-free, motivated & connected.

A big part of what I do is: 200-hour Yoga Teacher Trainings, virtual workshops & yoga retreats with Stella Luna Yoga, click here to learn more.


The list of my experience & training continues to grow. My coaching style focuses on strong foundations of body awareness & stabilization. I combine techniques from Yoga, Pilates, Strength Training, Massage Therapy & Mindfulness to craft well thought out & customized training plans to support all clients. To read more about my certifications, click here.

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8 Ways to REGULATE YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

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