Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Atlanta

The Power, Practices and Benefits of Pranayama

Feb 01, 2024 06:00AM ● By David Penn
This is the second of a three-part series we’re featuring on pranayama, a variety of specialized breathing methods that yogis and spiritual masters have practiced for—literally—millennia. Today, millions of people around the world practice them to improve mental and physical health and to further their spiritual goals. See last month’s introduction at—Ed.

Pranayama. Like ripples dissipating into a pond, slow, deep breaths quiet mental chatter, and rhythmic inhalations and exhalations become a mantra, anchoring the present moment. The practice of pranayama is often a bridge to deeper meditation, where prana—life force energy—and consciousness merge.

There are many techniques to explore and experience the dance between breath and energy through pranayama. Some seek stress relief, mental clarity or a deeper connection to their inner self. Every conscious breath can become a brushstroke on the canvas of well-being. Every inhale can be a fresh start. Every exhale, a release. 

The Gateway of Life

Tracy Jennings-Hill began her yoga practice 20 years ago as a way to heal after her husband was killed while on active duty. Her discovery came organically as she was searching for happiness without medications or stimulants. Yoga helped her begin to rebuild her life. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, she continued to practice, and pranayama was an integral part of that practice. In 2017, she founded the LiveURYoga studio in Roswell.

“The practices that I teach and have practiced for over 20 years have been more focused on the breath than anything else,” says Jennings-Hill. “It’s the only way that we can create the balance we need. It’s not necessarily the control of the breath, but the relationship we have with breath.” 

Jennings-Hill’s classes start by creating a meditative state, and then they move into an “awakening breath, a pranayama,” she says. “When the breath isn’t steady, the mind isn’t steady. The only way the mind can be steady is through the practice of the breath. The breath supports our meditative mind.”

The Realm of the Unfamiliar

William Hufschmidt, LMT, E-RYT 500, has been involved with yoga and movement for more than 30 years. In 1989, he began exploring hatha yoga and its inseparable connection to pranayama and meditation. Over the course of his career, Hufschmidt has owned a successful yoga studio in Atlanta, trained more than 200 yoga teachers, and taught well over 20,000 hours of yoga classes through 2020, when he stopped counting. His current work includes Thai massage, structural integration, yoga and movement therapies, and breathing practices at his home in Decatur.

“Pranayama is a part of the yoga practice that explores energy and navigating or channeling that energy. You could say we’re composed of matter and energy together. How we breathe affects our energy. If we don’t have good breathing hygiene, it has consequences for our physical health, our metabolism, and our mental health,” says Hufschmidt. “Pranayama could be thought of as energy control. If you go into an asana practice and you hold a pose you’re not used to for a long time, that’s going to challenge your sense of self. You will get shaky and uncertain. You’ll go past the realm of what’s familiar into the realm of what’s unfamiliar. Pranayama techniques can do that as well.”

Pranayama Practices

The following are several pranayama practices commonly taught in yoga studios.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama — Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi shodhana pranayama involves inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils. It balances the two sides of the brain, promotes mental clarity and harmonizes the energy channels in the body. To practice nadi shodhana pranayama:
  1. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
  2. Using your right hand, place your index and middle fingers on your forehead, between the eyebrows. Rest your thumb on the right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers on your left nostril.
  3. Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly through your left nostril.
  4. At the top of the inhale, close your left nostril with your ring finger while releasing the thumb from the right nostril. Exhale.
  5. Inhale through your right nostril, closing it at the top of the inhale with your thumb.
  6. Release your left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the left nostril.
  7. Repeat the process, inhaling through your left nostril, then exhaling through your right, inhaling through your right nostril, then exhaling through your left. This completes one round. Continue practicing for 5 to 10 minutes.
The benefits of nadi shodhana pranayama include balancing the two sides of the brain, promoting mental clarity, harmonizing the body’s energy channels, reducing stress and anxiety, cleansing the lungs and respiratory system and promoting healthy sleep.

Viloma Pranayama — Ladder Breath

Viloma pranayama is the intentional pausing of the breath at different points during the inhale and exhale cycle. “Viloma” translates to “against the grain” or “opposite to the natural flow.” The natural flow of breath is a continuous cycle of inhalation and exhalation. Viloma disrupts that pattern by introducing pauses, thereby going “against the grain” of the natural rhythm. This interruption is similar to climbing a ladder. The practitioner is constantly stopping and changing direction to ascend or descend. To practice viloma pranayama:
  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe naturally for a few moments. 
  2. Inhale slowly, then hold your breath for a brief moment. Breathe in again, hold, then complete the inhale. 
  3. Exhale fully, followed by a pause in the breath. Exhale again, pause, fully emptying the lungs.
  4. Repeat the process. Begin slowly, working up to cycles of interrupted inhales and exhales for 5 to 10 minutes, focusing on the pauses. 
Viloma pranayama is known to help reduce anxiety and stress, promote relaxation, enhance concentration and memory, revitalize the body and mind, regulate the flow of vital energy and promote restful and restorative sleep.

Sama Vritti Pranayama — Equal Flow Breath

Sama vritti pranayama is a simple, effective, calming breathing exercise where inhalations and exhalations last the same amount of time. The Navy SEALs refer to this technique as “box breathing” because of the four-count rhythm of the breath. It is known to be one of their regular practices for its ability to provide calm under pressure. To practice sama vritti pranayama:
  1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
  2. Imagine drawing the breath in a square or box. Each side of the square has a slow, steady count of four.
  3. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four and hold for four.
  4. Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes. 
Sama vritti pranayama has been shown to help reduce fatigue and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, provide calm in a stressful environment, improve sleep and reduce blood pressure. 

Bhramari Pranayama — Bee Breath

Bhramari pranayama is a calming breathwork technique that involves creating a humming sound while inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils. This practice is said to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and soothe the nervous system. To practice bhramari pranayama:
  1. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
  2. Place your hands on your face, with your thumbs on your ears, index fingers above the eyebrows, and the rest of the fingers over your eyes.
  3. Inhale deeply through the nostrils.
  4. Upon exhalation, create a humming sound with your mouth in a relaxed, closed position.
  5. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Bhramari pranayama is recognized for calming the mind and soothing the nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety and stress, regulating blood pressure and heart rate, improving concentration and memory and promoting healthy sleep.

Ujjayi Pranayama — Ocean Breath

Ujjayi pranayama involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose and creating a soft whispering sound, similar to the sound of waves crashing against the shore. To practice ujjayi pranayama:
  1. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
  2. Begin by taking a few deep breaths.
  3. Take a deep inhale through your nose, allowing the breath to fill up your belly and then your chest.
  4. Upon exhaling, gently contract the back of your throat, creating a soft whispering sound with your mouth lightly closed and the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
  5. Repeat the process, making sure to maintain the whispering sound throughout each inhale and exhale. Begin with 12 cycles and gradually increase to 5 minutes or longer. 
Ujjayi pranayama helps to balance the energy in the body, enhance respiratory function and lung capacity and reduce stress and anxiety. It calms the mind, promotes mental clarity and cultivates a sense of focus and mindfulness.

Bhastrika Pranayama — Bellows Breath

Bhastrika pranayama is a forceful breathing technique that involves rapid inhalations and exhalations through the nose, creating a pumping motion with the abdomen and diaphragm. To practice bhastrika pranayama:
  1. Find a comfortable seated position and close your eyes.
  2. Begin by taking a few deep breaths.
  3. Inhale quickly and deeply through the nose.
  4. Follow this with a powerful, rapid exhalation through the nose, compressing the abdominal muscles.
  5. Inhale rapidly, then exhale rapidly at an even, consistent pace.
  6. Aim to complete 3 to 5 rounds of 20 breaths each, with a rest period between each round.
Bhastrika pranayama is said to stimulate the nervous system, enhance lung capacity, oxygenate the blood and promote mental and physical vitality. It can also improve digestion and metabolism, and it can be used to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Dirga Pranayama — Three-Part Breath 

Dirga pranayama is a gentle exploration of the lungs, inviting a connection to prana. As you practice it, you can imagine three chambers: the belly, the ribcage, and the collarbones. The belly is where gentle waves of breath rise and fall, and the ribcage expands and contracts like a bellows. The collarbones are like an attic for the very top of the breath to touch. To practice dirga pranayama:
  1. As you inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, fill your belly until it expands.
  2. Feel the ribcage gently lift as the lungs fill further, drawing the breath upwards.
  3. Next, feel the breath rise to the collarbones.
  4. Exhale smoothly through the nose, emptying the belly first, then the ribcage, and finally the upper chest.
  5. Briefly pause before the next inhale. 
Dirga pranayama has many benefits. Slow, deep breaths may activate the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering cortisol. The practice is known to stimulate the lymphatic system, helping to eliminate waste and toxins. It also quiets the mind of mental chatter, improves concentration and increases self-awareness and inner clarity. ❧

David Penn, E-RYT 200, founded Sun Dragon Yoga studio in 2015. He offers private instruction at homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and offers classes online. Contact him at 313-303-0096.
Mailing List

Subscribe To Our Newsletter!

* indicates required