Pranayama – Just Breathe


Breathing is an essential part of practicing yoga.

The Sanskrit word  “pranayama” means control of life force (the breath).Your breath unifies your mind and body, balances opposing energies, and helps your body move safely into yoga poses. Through proper breathing, your metabolism and health begin to improve. You become more centered and deepen your concentration.

Yoga breathing can calm your mind and reduce stress. When we are tense, we often gasp and hold onto the inhale.  This breathing pattern can activate the nervous system – often called the “fight or flight response”.   Our nervous system becomes over-stimulated: our heart rate rises, our muscles tense and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow.

By mindfully breathing a longer and smoother exhale, your nervous system activates the “relaxation response”.  When you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to slow down and relax.  The result is reduced stress and tightness in your body. Your inhalation and exhalation establish a flow of energy and release within you – the inhalation brings new energy into your body; the exhalation releases tension.

Here are some simple breathing techniques:

Abdominal breathing:
Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position or lie on your back. Inhale slowly and feel your abdomen expand and rise. As you exhale, feel the abdomen contract inward. Practice this exercise for a few breaths. The benefit of this breathing exercise is that is enhances your breathing capacity. The result is that you are able to even out the flow of your breath. The evenness of your breathing can make it possible for you to soothe yourself and sleep more peacefully.

Observing your breath:
Start at your head and move down your body – noticing which parts are tense.  Next, inhale through your nose, slightly constricting the back of your throat so that it feels like you are breathing through a straw at the back of your throat and filling your lungs. Exhale slowly through the nose. Invite your breath to move into those places in your body where you feel tightness or pain.  Not every part of your body will completely relax, but you might feel an increased sense of ease.  The most important thing is to feel your breath flowing in and out.  Listen to the rhythm of your inhales and exhales and how they blend in to the rhythm of the universe.

Counting breaths exercise: 
This exercise is a centering activity based on a slow inhalation and an increase in the length of your exhalation.

  •  Inhale to the count of two, exhale to the count of two;
  • Inhale to the count of two, exhale to the count of three;
  • Inhale to the count of three, exhale to the count of four;      
  • Inhale to the count of four, exhale to the count of four.

Quietly observe your breath and try to feel full and relaxed. Continue in this manner, adding an extra count each cycle for as long as is comfortable for you. Finally, release all effort, come back to your normal breathing, and enjoy the calming effects throughout the day.……. remember,  JUST BREATHE.   

Contributed by Cindy Boynton, R.Y.T-200