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Three Breath Control Techniques to Deepen Your Yoga Practice

by Gina SorensenJanuary 13, 2014

Three Breath Control Techniques to Deepen Your Yoga Practice

It’s no surprise that the English word “inspiration” comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to inspire, inflame, breathe.” Inspiration and breath have long been intricately entwined concepts. While inspiration may describe a sudden and brilliant idea, it is also by definition the act of drawing in breath.

Similarly, the concept of the spirit is linguistically tied to breath, as our word for describing this nonphysical part of a person comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning “a breathing” or “breath of life.” And this link isn’t just evident in English. In Hebrew, for example, the words for breath and soul come from the same root.

If you’re in search of a little inspiration, why not take a cue from language and start with breath. Integrate these pranayama practices, or breath control techniques, into your yoga practice to awaken awareness, relieve stress, and connect to your inner self.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Three Breath Control Techniques to Deepen Your Yoga PracticeUjjayi = Victorious; Prana = Life Force; Yama = Control
aka Victorious Breath

Ujjayi breath is one of the most common pranayama techniques practiced in yoga today. The ocean wave-like sound can be heard emanating from most yoga studios as practitioners seek victories of various kinds: victory over stress, victory over fatigue, and victory over ego.

How to practice Ujjayi Pranayama:

*Get to know the sound and feeling first. Begin by drawing a breath in through your nose. As you exhale, open your mouth and send air out as if you were fogging up a window. It will sound like a long, whispered HA sound.

*When you’re ready, seal your lips so that both your inhalation and exhalation move through your nose. Continue to breathe as if fogging up a window with your lips closed. Though your breath is flowing in and out of your nostrils, it may feel as if it’s coming from your throat.

*Keep the flow of breath easy and smooth while making the inhalation and exhalation equal in duration.


*The mind stays present by focusing on the emergent sound.

*Calms the nervous system

*Slows down the breath and thereby helps us to access deeper regions of the lungs

Nadi Shodhana

Three Breath Control Techniques to Deepen Your Yoga PracticeNadi = Energy Channel; Shodhana = Cleansing
aka Alternate Nostril Breathing

Consider Nadi Shodhana a reset button for your energetic body. This pranayama practice cleanses the three energy channels through which prana, our energetic life force, flows: the sushumna (central), the pingala (right), and the ida (left). Throughout the day, the flow of energy shifts between the right and left channels, and the impact can be observed in your breath. At times, your right nostril will be dominant, and at other times the left is dominant. Nadi Shodhana cleanses and balances the flow of prana through the right and left sides.

How to practice Nadi Shodhana:

*Hold your right hand out with your palm up. Tuck your index and middle fingers toward your palm. Your thumb will be used to close and open your right nostril. Your ring finger will be used to close and open your left nostril.

*Begin with a deep inhalation through the nose. At the top of your breath, close your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale fully through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril.

*At the top of your breath, close your right nostril with your thumb and exhale fully through the left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.

*Repeat this pattern several times. Then finish with an inhalation through your right nostril, release your hand, and exhale through both nostrils. Return to natural breathing.

*As you become more comfortable with the pattern, try adding a count (such as 5-counts) to the duration of each breath so that your inhalations take the same amount of time as your exhalations. You may also try closing both nostrils at the top or bottom of your breath and holding for 5-counts. If advancing the technique in these ways creates any panic, return to the basic practice described above. Our goal is to calm the nervous system, never to create stress.


*Balances the flow of prana through the energetic body

*Oxygenates both hemispheres of the brain equally

*Slows down the breath and calms the nervous system


Three Breath Control Techniques to Deepen Your Yoga PracticeSimha = Lion; Asana = Pose

Lion Pose may look and feel a little silly, but the benefits are numerous. Lion Pose is a liberating and invigorating pranayama technique that can be performed on its own or in combination with other yoga poses. A few of these breaths can jumpstart your energy and release negativity.

How to practice Lion Pose:

*Begin by drawing a breath in through your nose.

*At the top of your breath, open your mouth and stick your tongue out so that the tip of your tongue reaches for your chin.

*As you exhale, let out a slow HA sound. The muscles at the front of the throat will gently constrict in a similar way to Ujjayi breath.

*Open your eyes wide and cross them. Some texts instruct to set your gaze at the spot between the eyebrows. Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose.


*Relieves tension and stretches the neck, jaw and facial muscles

*Promotes a healthy and open throat chakra

*Fortifies vitality and promotes self-expression

Gina Sorensen
Gina Sorensen
One-part yogini, one-part choreographer, and one-part dance educator, Gina Sorensen has the supreme pleasure of talking about movement and the body all day long. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher and the founder of Yoga Natyam, an online resource for yoga classes, where classes are searchable by level, length, and focus. Gina also has a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Oregon and is the Co-Artistic Director of somebodies dance theater, a contemporary modern dance company based in San Diego and directed in collaboration with her husband, Kyle.
  • yogamatt

    LOL…I love the simhasana picture 😉

  • Frank

    It is very unlikely that just breathing in and out in nadi shodhana will purify the ida and pingala any. Those channels are subtle. Pranyama practice is much deeper than watching the breathe or manipulating the nostrils in a mechanical way. It is a good start and you might confuse the high you get with some kind of sign that you are progressing but you are pretty much just getting high. More details at

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