In yoga, the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises is known as "Pranayama". "Prana" means energy while "yama" can be understood as control. Many of us who practice yoga might have unknowingly neglected certain breathing techniques while flowing through our movements. As such, it is always good to take some time to practise controlled breathing which can bring significant benefits to your body and mind. Pranayama is considered essential in yoga, it enables you to effectively move through a series of yoga poses while relaxing the mind.
Pranayamas can be classified into 4 main stages:
A mindful pause with full retention of breath within your body ("Khumbaka")
A mindful pause after full exhalation ("Shunyaka")
There are different breathing techniques for different intentions. The most common breathing exercise is known as the Surya Bhedana Pranayama ("Alternate Nostril Breathing"). The next breathing technique which is usually executed during yoga practice is the Ujjayi Pranayama ("Victorious Breathing"). The other breathing techniques include:
Do the above breathing techniques sound familiar or are they completely new to you? In traditional yoga, the class usually starts with some breathing exercises as compared to modern yoga, which is more focused on the physical aspect while occasionally encompassing some elements of the breathing techniques. It is not compulsory to incorporate breathing exercises into your practice, it depends on your intention, the style you are planning as well as the time you have. For me, I prefer to do breathing exercises whenever I am planning for a slow and gentle yoga session.
Before jumping straight into the breathing techniques mentioned above, allow yourself to understand the positive effects of Pranayama:
Weight Loss - Breathing techniques like Kapalabhati Pranayama requires the movement of the abdominal muscles
Glowing Skin - By holding our breath for some techniques, oxygen is being supplied to our cells
Relieves sinusitis - Surya Bhedena Pranayama clears blockages in the nasal cavity
Reduces anxiety - Stimulates relaxation and calms the mind, freeing all unkind thought
There are a lot more benefits than the above mentioned. However, the above are those that I've encountered after a consistent period of breathing practices (which was during the time of my teacher training). Observe your practice starting today - commit 20-30 minutes every day for 1-2 months and see the difference for yourself! Of course, everyone's body reacts differently, thus you might experience the effects faster/slower than others. Be patient with yourself and take time.