Prana & Pranayama 101: How to Breathe Correctly in Yoga

What are Prana and Pranayama? Breathing is the foundation of most yoga practices, but how do you breathe in yoga?

Are you breathing correctly? What is the correct way to breathe in a yoga class?

So many questions can be asked about the philosophy, science, and technique of breathing while practicing yoga.

This article will direct you to a better understanding of the basics of Prana and Pranayama: the foundation of breathing correctly in yoga.

Let’s start with some general questions related to yoga breath: it’s origins and practice in modern-day yoga classes.

What is Prana?

Woman holds lights in her hand.

To understand yoga breathing, you must first begin with the reason why you breathe with intention during a yoga practice.

It starts with Prana.

This is a Sanskrit word that means “life force” or “life energy.” It is the vitality that gives you power, energy, and life. It is your intention to live a good, healthy lifestyle.

By improving the quality of prana, you also improve the quality of life.

When you practice yoga, you naturally generate this pranic energy throughout the body.

Movement of the body entices the transportation of prana through the physical body.

To ensure that prana is moving fluidly in your system, one needs to pay attention to the breath.

Is Prana Related to the Breath?

Woman is blowing a flower.

Prana is best understood when you talk about the breath.

Prana is carried throughout the body by the automatic task of breathing.

When you breathe, you stimulate the life force allowing it to circulate through the body.

But the job of breathing must be more intentional and mindful to activate prana.

This is done through the practice of Pranayama.

What is Pranayama?

Woman is doing Yoga.

There are Eight Limbs of Yoga. Pranayama is the fourth limb, while the practice of yoga, Asana, is the third limb.

These are guidelines and practices that provide a pathway to deeper awareness and connection with yourself and all things.

Pranayama is the practice of breathing to generate the flow of prana.

If you dissected the word, the first part, ‘prana,’ refers to ‘life energy.’ The second half of the word, ‘ayama,’ is the extension of the breath. It can also mean the action that you give the breath.

There are many different breathing exercises, and each has its own benefit.

For example, in the wintertime, there are specific breathing practices that help to warm the body.

Likewise, in the summer months, there are cooling breaths to practice.

What makes these special is the technique devoted to each of these exercises.

In some cases, you will breathe slowly through your mouth or quickly through your nostrils. Doing so brings your full attention to the practice.

It is a type of meditation that allows you to focus intently on one task. It is one way in the whole realm of yoga that draws you closer to Enlightenment.

Recall the Eight Limbs of Yoga; Pranayama is a resource toward Divine living.

In conjunction with Asana (the physical practice of yoga), it fine-tunes your journey, enhances your awareness, and deepens your intention.

How Do I Breathe in Yoga?

Woman is meditating on the beach.

It is already quite evident that breathing is a vital part of your existence and survival.

It is this element that helps to carry oxygen and create good blood flow to and from your internal organs.

Breathing and practicing yoga go hand-in-hand. They have a symbiotic relationship that allows for more opening in the body so that the pranic energy can flow with ease throughout the entire body.

When you move into a yoga pose, part of the intention is to open up blocked channels.

The breath acts as that resource to penetrate through those bound up energy spots within you. 

Here is a breathing technique that is often used in a Power Yoga class; it is called Ujjayi Pranayama.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi (oo-jah-yee) breathing is a breath control exercise that you can do while you practice yoga.

It provides energy and focus as you move.

Translated, Ujjayi Pranayama means ‘victorious breath.’

That is an appropriate term and dynamic for the breath as you carry your body through a sequence of poses in a Power Yoga class.

Here are some steps toward practicing Ujjayi breathing:

1) Nostril Breathing

Woman is breathing through the nose.

Start with the understating of breathing through your nose.

Imagine you are smelling a lovely rose, and you take a big whiff to ingest its aroma.

Slowly breathe in through your nostrils as if you were feeling that flower.

Then breathe out slowly through your nose.

Experience the sensation of the air moving in and out of your nasal cavity.

You may notice that you are only able to take short, shallow breaths through your nose.

2) Mouth Breathing

Woman is gasping air.

Now open your mouth wide and draw in breath as if you were gasping for breath in slow motion.

Then exhale slowly like you were fogging a mirror.

Perform this a few times.

You may notice a coolness hit the back of your throat when you inhale and a warmth escape your mouth when you exhale.

Further, see how you are using the muscles of your throat to produce the action of breathing.

This is an excellent way to breathe.

It’s not as shallow as nose breathing, but it takes effort to take deep breaths through your mouth.

Nose Breathing and Mouth Breathing are examples of Pranayama, but they are not quite the Ujjayi practice.

However, they do contribute to this breathing exercise.

3) Ujjayi Pranayama

Breathe deeply through your mouth a few more times, then close your mouth.

Continue to breathe in as if your mouth was still open.

The muscles of your throat will still produce the action of breathing, but the air is now moving through your nostrils.

This is Ujjayi Breathing.

It is sometimes called throat breathing.

With practice, you will discover that you can take long, deep, cleansing breaths with this technique.

What is the Benefit of Pranayama in Yoga?

Breathing is undoubtedly an essential feature in any style of yoga practice.

It is especially crucial in vinyasa-style yoga classes.

These are fluidly moving practices in which you’re transitioning fluidly from one pose to the other.

Using Ujjayi breathing as an example, here are some main benefits of Pranayama in a yoga class:

Synchronizes Movement

You can develop a rhythm of movement while practicing yoga.

Breathing helps you to synchronize those transitions.

As a result, you will move your body with an added grace and ease.

A typical synchronized movement with breath is to inhale when you raise a body part like your arms or a leg.

The exhale is when you lower the body part. An inhale is also used as the preparation to move, to lengthen your spine, for example.

The exhale produces an engaged core center that provides stability as you move into the next yoga position.

Heats the Body

Due to the deep breathing nature of Ujjayi, it produces heat in the body.

This allows your body to warm up inside.

This results in safer muscle stretching and even a cleansing element of your internal organs.

Releases Tension

In addition to heating the body with this style of Pranayama, Ujjayi contributes to a release of tension in your body, too.

If you have tight muscles, for example, you will notice the release of this tension with the combined effort of breathing and moving.

Deepens Concentration

Because you must pay attention to the quality of your breath as you’re engaging synchronized movements, this leads to deeper concentration.

Your mind must remain focused on the breath flow in addition to the bodily movements into postures.

In doing so, you are less distracted by outside elements. Your mindset stays centered on the entire practice.

Conclusion

Breathing is a critical component of the yoga practice and can be practiced with great attention and focus using Pranayama.

Not only will your breathing practice enhance your yoga practice, but you will find that the devotion to this resource brings you to a greater sense of self.

As you take your practice off the yoga mat, the yoga intention remains with you into everyday living.

Related Questions

1) Do I need to learn Pranayama before attending a yoga class?

No. Part of the moving practice is learning how to breathe properly; it is integrated into the practice.

Your instructor will guide you through correct breathing with specific cues and instructions to help you learn and grow.

2) Where can I learn more about Pranayama?

Pranayama is considered a deep science, and there is much to learn and gain from the practice.

Here is a resource that can help you understand pranayama a little better.

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