Prana is a Sanskrit word that means life force and ayama means extending or stretching. Thus, the word “pranayama” translates to the control of life force. It is also known as the extension of breath.
- Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing)
This practice of alternating between the right and left nostrils as you inhale and exhale “unblocks and purifies the nadis, which in yogic belief are energy passages that carry life force and cosmic energy through the body,” Cole says. While there is no clear scientific evidence to support these effects, one pilot study found that within seven days of practicing this technique, overactive nervous systems were essentially rebalanced. And a study of 90 people with high blood pressure found Nadi Shodhana lowered blood pressure and improved mental focus.
I have been practising Nadi Shodhana nightly before sleep in the ratio of 1:2:2 – that is inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 12 seconds, and exhale for 12 seconds. Can’t tell if it’s been the daily asana practice or this pranayama technique, but I have found my body, mind and emotions to be significantly calmer before sleep and I woke up feeling well rested.
2. Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath or Ocean’s Breath)
This classic pranayama practice, known for its soft, soothing sound similar to breaking ocean waves, can further enhance the relaxation response of slow breathing, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of The Breath. The breath is directed to the throat’s back while it constricts the muscles which cause a hissing sound similar to the sound of an ocean which is why it is also known as Ocean’s Breath. Her theory is that the vibrations in the larynx stimulate sensory receptors that signal the vagus nerve to induce a calming effect.
This is the breathing technique I have employed throughout most of my asana practice in YTT. I found that it made it easier for me to push past the physical pain during practice as the breath, when loud enough, acted as an anchor to bring my focus back to holding steady alignment, opening up my chakras whenever my mind wandered elsewhere.