Esoteric Breathing Exercises

Nearly every culture has a history of breath work. In India, classical Ashtanga yoga includes pranayama, or breath control, as a prelude to sitting meditation. There are different types of breathing exercises used for different purposes. In the United States, simplified breathing exercises can be used as an effective tool for stress management. It is difficult to breathe deeply and remain in a stressed state. You don’t have to be in full lotus to do pranayama, either. Sit comfortably in a straight-backed chair or on the floor with a folded blanket or pillow under your hips for support.

Alternate Nostril Breathing Helps to Reduce Stress

Most people breathe in a shallow manner during the day, and stress can build as a result. Use alternate nostril breathing to encourage a wider breath. Sitting in a quiet place, close your eyes and, using your right thumb, close off your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril and pause. Use your right index finger to close off the left nostril as you exhale through the right nostril. Repeat for five to 10 rounds without strain. Then take several recovery breaths. This is a calming breathing exercise that can slow down the heart rate when practiced consistently.

Three-Part Viloma Breath Is Calming

Traditionally, esoteric breathing techniques were done right before a sitting meditation. For beginners, simply doing the breathing exercise itself becomes a form of meditative practice. Three-part or viloma breath is a slightly more advanced pranayama technique. Sit with your eyes closed and place one hand on the top of the chest and the other on the belly. Inhale softly to inflate the low belly, and pause. Without exhaling, inhale to the hand on the belly, and pause. Inhale again to the top hand, filling up the chest, side and back body, and pause. Exhale slowly from the chest to the belly to the low belly. Do three rounds and rest.

“Lion’s Breath” Provides Immediate Stress Relief

During times of stress, you may need a short breathing exercise to give you relief. Use a variation of “lion’s breath.” Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with a “ha” sound. Do three rounds slowly. This breathing technique releases obvious upset, or pitta, which is heat in Ayurvedic, Indian terms. Ayurveda is a 3,000-year-old healing practice. Pitta imbalance can be seen as tension headaches and minor neck and back pain. This simplified version of lion’s breath can reduce it.

About this Author

Sava Tang Alcantara has been a writer and editor since 1988, working as a writer and editor for health publications such as Let’s Live Magazine and Whole Life Times. Alcantara specializes in health and fitness and is a certified yoga teacher and personal trainer. She does volunteer work regularly and has taught free public yoga classes in Santa Monica, Calif., since 2002.