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Introduction to Pranayama Breathing Exercises

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Updated March 20, 2013

Yoga breathing exercises, also known as Pranayama, are an important part of a developing yoga practice. Pranayama is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, as defined by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In addition to deepening your yoga practice, learning ways to calm or invigorate the body through breathing will greatly benefit your life off the mat.

Breathing is an involuntary act; it is an essential part of life. Although we cannot control whether or not we breathe, we can control the way that we breathe. A belief that different methods of breath affect the body's health and life force is the core of Pranayama practice.

Calming Pranayama Exercises

  • Three-Part Breath - Dirga Pranayama

    A good breath for beginners, this exercise teaches you how to fill and empty the lungs completely.

  • Equal Breathing - Sama Vritti Pranayama

    This breath helps you relax.

  • Alternate Nostril Breathing - Nadi Sodhana

    Bring yourself in to balance by clearing the energy channels on both sides of the body.

  • Cooling Breath - Shitali Pranyama
  • A simple breath, perfect for a hot day or after practicing yoga postures.

    Vigorous Pranayama Exercises

  • Lion's Breath

    A powerful release for tension in the face.

  • Ocean Breath - Ujjayi Pranayama

    This powerful breath helps you maintain focus while doing yoga and can really invigorate your practice.

  • Skull Shining Breath - Kapalabhati Pranayama
  • This advanced breathing exercise should be learned from an experienced teacher, as it is possible to become lightheaded if it is done incorrectly. Once mastered, this breath generates heat and clears the nasal passages.

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