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5 Breathing Techniques That Might Show Up in Your Yoga Class

Breathing is a critical component to yoga, but most of the time during a class we don't dive into the specifics of the breath; the what, why, hows of it all. I'll talk a little bit about 5 breathing techniques that might show up in your yoga class so you have at least a baseline understanding of what to do when you are asked to participate.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah) is one technique that helps calm the mind and warm the body. When practicing this breath, you will breathing in and out of the nose while slightly contracting your throat. This breath is often referred to as "ocean breath" because it resembles the sound of ocean waves. This breathing technique is commonly used in a vinyasa or ashtanga style yoga class.

How To

  1. Take a big inhale in through the nostrils, gently constricting the throat so you hear a very soft almost snoring sound. Feel the breath as it moves down through your throat. If you are new to the practice, be mindful not to constrict the throat too much.

  2. Exhale out of the mouth. As you exhale, whisper a quiet audible sigh out. The sound might sound something similar to a quiet 'ah'. You can also achieve this breath as if you were trying to fog up a mirror in front of you.

  3. To advance this breath practice, close the mouth and breath in and out of the nose only. As you exhale deeply, you should still hear a much quieter "ocean-like" sound.


This breath helps you to override thoughts that could possibly distract you. It also creates an audible sound that assists you in synchronizing your movements with your breath. And lastly, it does a great job in regulating body temperature or heart rate so you can help calm the body down when you are in difficult poses to prevent the "fight or flight" body response to kick in.. to keep you cool, calm, and anchored in the mind.

Belly Breathing

Belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, and deep breathing are interchangeable terms. The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays an important role in breathing. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity.

How To

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that's more comfortable.

  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.

  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.

  4. Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down towards the spine.


Many of us have a habit of only breathing into the chest, called coastal breathing or shallow breathing. When we breath into the chest only, we are not utilizing the full capacity of our lungs. This is why we must consciously practice deep breathing to strengthen the diaphragm and build lung capacity (both have numerous benefits).

Three Part Breath

Three part breath (Dirga Pranayama) is one of the most calming, grounding breathing exercises you can do. It really works to help focus your attention on the present moment and get in tune with the sensations of your physical body.

How To

You can practice Three-Part Breath in any comfortable position in which your spine is straight and your abdomen is not compressed.

  1. Bring your left hand to your chest placing it in the center, just below your collarbone, and your right hand to the center of your belly.

  2. As you inhale, fill the belly up with your breath and expand the belly like a balloon.

  3. Exhale out of the nose and draw the naval towards your spine to empty out the air.

  4. Repeat belly breathing to get used to it; in and out of the belly only.

  5. On the next inhale, fill up the belly with air. When the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage, causing the ribs to widen apart.

  6. Exhale and let the air out of the rib cage first, letting the rib cage close together, and then let the air empty from the belly. Draw the naval in.

  7. Inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air. Then sip in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around the heart, expand and rise.

  8. Exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the chest to sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.

  9. Continue at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.

  10. Continue for up to five minutes, or for as long as you feel comfortable.


Deep breathing will help oxygenate your blood, which nourishes the body. When you are under stress, your breath may be quick and shallow. Greater oxygen flow to the brain will help you become more focused and alert. This technique is taught to relieve stress.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is known as a “subtle energy clearing technique” and can be done as part of a yoga practice or any time when you need a moment of centering. You can really practice anytime that is comfortable to you.

How To

Check out this quick tutorial from my IGTV and start practicing today.


Alternate nostril breathing helps to calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, and balances the left and right sides of the brain.

Box Breathing

Box Breathing is a technique which can help calm the mind, heighten concentration and focus, a relieve stress and anxiety.

How To

Check out this quick tutorial from my IGTV and start practicing today.


This type of intentional breathing can calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system such as lower body temperature and blood pressure. This exercise is a trusty tool to boost your mood.

I hope this helps you understand these 5 different types of breath techniques a little bit better. Now you can be a tad more prepared when your yoga teacher asks you to participate in your Ujjayi breath during your vinyasa class!


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