Pranayama breathing exercises can get you calmer and more focused whenever you need it.

Are you one of those people who have tried meditation and mindfulness, only to find that it felt like something was missing? Or have you tried every stress management technique in the book but found that they failed when you actually needed them? What if we told you that the missing piece of the puzzle is pranayama techniques?

Pranayama is an ancient breathing technique that involves controlling the breath by exhaling, inhaling, and holding it for set counts.

For instance, box breath (or sama vritti) is a simple form of pranayama in which you inhale for two breaths; hold for two breaths; exhale for two breaths; and hold for two breaths again.

Wash, rinse & repeat… until you reach the zen state of mind you’re seeking. (But hell, why stop there?)

If you’ve ever practiced ashtanga yoga or read traditional Indian scripture, then you’ve heard of the Eight-Limbed Path, a set of spiritual guidelines for self-discipline and living a fulfilled life. Pranayama is the fourth limb of the path, and it’s said to prepare you for withdrawing the senses, concentrating, meditating, and enlightenment.

What does “pranayama” mean?

The name pranayama is a mashup of prana, or the life force that sustains your body, and ayama, or the act of control and extension. If you take prana to mean your breath (which literally sustains your body), then the word means “breath control” or “to extend the breath.”

Pranayama is pretty much what its name suggests: you control your breath, but for what? You might just find that it helps you focus on one thing in isolation. (If you guessed “the breath,” then you get nothing for guessing an obvious answer—but you’re right!)

Focusing on the breath (counting it, feeling the sensation of it) provides mindfulness practice. And guess what? Mindfulness translates to every area of life. So even when you can’t breathe through it for some reason, you’ll reap the benefits of regular breathwork all the time!

Three effective pranayama techniques that you can try include:

  • Bhramari breath
  • Kapalbhati breath
  • Ujjayi breath

Bhramari breath

Also known as “bee breath,” bhramari makes you sound like a hummingbird! That’s because during this type of breathwork, you’ll use your index fingers to plug both of your ear canals, then constrict your throat and keep your mouth closed so your breath makes a humming sound (like a bumblebee!).

Once you’ve got the humming thing down, you can start counting your breath, but you don’t have to do that to enjoy this pranayama technique. All you have to do is hum and breathe! Try humming at different pitches to find what’s most soothing to you. Once you’ve got it, keep going until you’re satisfied, or repeat for five breaths. (Or as long as you like!)

Kapalbhati breath

Kapalbhati is also known as “shining forehead breath,” which represents… wait, what?

It’s also called “skull-shining breath.” Traditionally, people have used kapalbhati as a detox technique. We can’t speak to that, but it’s definitely calming and uplifting, which can help propel you into that zen place you’ve been seeking!

To practice shining forehead breath:

  1. Take a deep inhale.
  2. Exhale while pulling your stomach toward the spine with your core muscles. Put your right hand on your belly, and feel the muscles working.
  3. Relax your core and let the lungs automatically inhale.

A round is 20 breaths, but you can modify it to do whatever feels good in the moment. Controlled breathing while activating your core can get you feeling dizzy, crampy, or hyperventilate-y, so take a step back if it doesn't feel right. And call your doctor if you have any serious questions!

Ujjayi breath is "triumphant" among pranayama techniques

If you do any yoga, you've probably tried ujjayi since it's the most common breathwork in that practice. It's also called “victorious breath,” which honestly sounds pretty badass.

Ujjayi breath is known for helping release tension and improving concentration, making it easier to get into Zen mode.

To get your victorious breath on, just do this:

  1. Close your mouth, and constrict your throat.
  2. Inhale while slowing your breath with your diaphragm so that it makes a snoring noise.
  3. Exhale while keeping your mouth closed.

There’s no set amount of time that you should do ujjayi breathing. Like other forms of breathwork, do what feels good!

Belly breathe your way to enlightenment—or just a chill state of mind—with Sunday Scaries and some pranayama techniques

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A few drops of CBD oil tincture before you get into your breathwork may chill you out and help keep you in the moment. Then, hop onto a meditation cushion (or yoga mat, or comfy blanket on the floor), inhale, exhale, and repeat!

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