Meditation centers around our breathing and one of the main points to learn when starting meditation is how to control your breathing. The art of breathing is known as Pranayama and is central to Meditation and Yoga. In this article, we’re going to look at 6 powerful breathing techniques for meditation.
Ancient Indian Sages realized that they could enhance the quality and levels of Prana by practicing breathing techniques, referred to as Pranayama.
With regular practice, a person can increase the quality and quantity of prana, clearing nadis and chakras in the process. This leaves the practitioner feeling energetic and positive.
When taught correctly, under supervision, pranayamas bring harmony to the body, mind and spirit. But what exactly is Prana, Chakras or Nadi?
‘Prana’ is the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Prana is the vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. It is what keeps us alive. It flows through thousands of subtle energy channels referred to as ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’.
The quantity quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines the state of one’s mind. If the Prana level is high and its flow is continuous, then the mind stays in a calm, positive and enthusiastic state.
Alternatively, if the Prana level is low, this leads to the nadis and chakras being partially or fully blocked leading to a and broken flow. This leads to increased worries, fear, uncertainty, tensions, conflict and other negative qualities.
Pranayama’s for beginners are designed to teach a person breathing control. As previously mentioned, these should be first learnt under the supervision of a Yoga or Meditation Teacher to make sure you are carrying them out correctly. Some techniques beginners will come across, include the following;
6 Powerful Breathing Techniques for Meditation
1) Nadi Shodhana – Alternate-Nostril breath (ANB)
As the title suggests, this form of breathing focuses on drawing breath back and forth, between each nostril. Each breath should be slow and rhythmic.
First, plug the left nostril, breathe in through the right, plug the right nostril, exhale through the left. Then repeat on the other side and repeat.
ANB come with many health benefits, for example a study conducted in 2008 showed that a 30-minute practice lowered blood pressure, compared to participants who only practiced breath awareness.
Not only that but ANB is well known for it’s ability to reduce stress and still the mind and body.
2) Kapalabhati – Skull Breathing
Kapalabhati can be practiced for short or longer periods, but it should be mentioned that this technique is more suitable for those who are more experienced in meditation,
The practice centers around forceful exhalation of breath and calm inhalation.
The difference with this technique, and Bhastrika (below), compared to others on this list is that it’s more invigorating. Thus, the benefits that come with this practice are also different.
Research suggests practicing Kapalabhati may improve mental performance due to an increase in neural resources. What this essentially means is practicing this breathing technique provides a stimulation of the sympathetic system response, increasing your cognitive functioning.
3) Bhastrika – Bellows Breath
Like Kapalabhati, Bhastrika is a breathing technique that increases energy flow and is practiced by inhaling fully and forcefully.
By practicing Bhastrika, you can slow your breathing to about 6 breaths a minute and this is where we see the most benefits.
For example, researchers found Bhastrika significantly dropped blood pressure and slightly decreased heart rate in participants who practiced ‘slow-pace’ Bhastrika.
The exercise also improved the balance of the autonomic nervous system, meaning is increased mental relaxation and reduced stressed in those who took part in the study.
Bhastrika can also increase energy, release tension in the abdomen, and decongest the lymph.
4) Samavrtti – Same Breathing
Begin by observing your breathing and its irregularities, transitioning each breath to being slower and more even. To achieve Samavrtti, inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts.
This breathing technique calms the mind and creates a sense of balance and clarity.
5) Ujjayi – The Victorious Breath
Often referred to as the ‘Ocean Breath’ due to the noise the air makes as it passes through, this technique involves maintaining the same rhythm as Samavrtti.
Constrict your epiglottis (The flap of cartilage that switches to allow you to breath or swallow) to the back of your throat, while keeping your mouth closed. Listen for the hiss in the back of your throat to know when you have achieved this.
Ujjayi tone’s internal organs, increases body heat, improves concentration and calms the mind and body.
6) Kumbhaka – Retaining the Breath
This is the practice of holding your breath. Start by practicing either the Samavrtti or Ujjayi. Once you have settled into this, after every four successive breaths, hold your breath in Kumbhgka for four to eight counts. Exhalations should last longer than Inhalations.
When you first start your Kumbhgka will be shorter than your other breaths, but you will gradually reduce the number of breaths between Kumbhaka, until you have built your exhalation to twice as long as your inhalation, and your Kumbhgka breath three times as long.
Kumbhaka strengthens the diaphragm, resorts energy and cleanses the respiratory system.
If you’re interested in going further on your meditation journey, these 6 breathing techniques for meditation will help you get there.