Breathing is one of our most natural functions. We automatically breathe every moment we're alive. Yet certain techniques of breathing have been developed through yoga to enhance our physical and mental well being and overall energetic flow. There are many forms of pranayama or yogic breath work. The Sanskrit word Paranayama has two roots: prana plus ayama. Prana means vital energy or life force. The word ayama is defined as extension or expansion. Thus, the word Pranayama means "expansion of life force". Here, we will briefly outline two of the most fundamental techniques; Ujjaayi Pranayama and Nadi Sodhana Pranayama. Both are meant to move the prana or internal energy (chi) of the body in ways that enhance that energy, creating vibrant health and well being.
Ujjayi literally means “Victorious Uprising”, which refers to the energetic expansion and movement of the breath energy, or prana. Ujjayi breathing has two distinct characteristics:
1) An action in the throat that produces the distinctive Ujjayi sound;
2) An effort to maintain evenness of flow of the breath from beginning to end of each breath – both on the inhale and exhale, breathing through the nose. The Ujjayi sound is made by lightly constricting the back of the throat as if whispering the sound “haaaa” or as if creating fog on a mirror with your breath. The sound itself is not the point. It’s the gentle action at the back of the throat. The purpose of the Ujjayi sound is to attune your awareness to the breath; to it’s quality and texture. It gives a slight resistance to the breath and moves the effort into the primary breathing muscles of the diaphragm. This action helps develop the ability to breathe smoothly and continuously.
Nadi Sodhana or alternate nostril breathing is meant to balance the Ida Nadi and Pingala Nadi energy channels. These energy channels, weave their way up the spine to the nostrils, corresponding to the idea of masculine and feminine energies or positive and negative currents in the body. In the early stages of your practice, use a light Ujjayi breath when inhaling and exhaling. Eventually, subtly adjust the pressure on the nostrils to regulate the flow of the breath instead. Begin by Inhaling through the left nostril, then blocking that nostril exhale through the right. Inhale right, exhale left. This is one round. Continue alternating nostrils for some minutes, finishing with an exhale through the right side. This pranayama can have a very cooling effect on the mind and is revitalizing for the body. More specifics on pranayama technique are not discussed here and should be sought from your teacher.