One of the most intimidating parts of yoga for beginners is practicing breath control, also known as pranayama. Prana refers to “breath” or “life force” and ayama refers to control. Controlling your breath has the ability to melt away stress and calm racing thoughts, making it one of the most powerful ways to naturally reduce stress and activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
If you’re not sure where to start with breathing exercises, simply start with one and slowly incorporate pranayama into your yoga practice. The following breathing exercises are calming, simple and good for beginners:
- Alternate Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana)
- Cooling Breath (Sitali Pranayama)
- Victorious Breath/Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Breath)
- Square Breath/4-Part Breath (Samavritti Breath)
Disclaimer: Breath work is not to be taken lightly. It is a powerful tool that is not safe for everyone. Only practice pranayama after consulting with your physician and under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
Easy Pose is the go-to yoga pose for breathing exercises. It’s a beginner pose that many yoga classes start in, and it doesn’t take any thought or planning to simply sit in Easy Pose in your own home and begin practicing a breathing exercise.
Sphinx gently opens the heart and lengthens the spine while allowing your to relax and tune into your breath. It can be practiced on the floor or even on your bed!
Hero Pose is commonly used when practicing certain pranayamas but it can get uncomfortable quickly without support. For a more comfortable Hero Pose, sit on a bolster or block or place a blanket underneath your shins.
Cat-Cow Pose works well for finding the rhythm of your breath while moving. Lift your head and tailbone as you inhale and round your back like and angry cat as you exhale. It loosens up the spine, creates warmth in the body and helps bring your awareness to the present moment.
Bridge Pose can be either stimulating or restorative—it all depends on you! If you are in need of rest and relaxation, practice breathing exercises in bridge pose with the support of a block or bolster under your sacrum. If you want a more energizing practice, lift your hips into the sky engaging your glutes and possibly rolling your shoulders under your back to deepen the heart opener.
*Be mindful to not move your gaze or neck in Bridge Pose. Focus on one point on the ceiling to protect your neck.
Practice your breathing exercises in Low Lunge Pose if you’re looking for more of an active practice. Low lunge pose is a chest opener that stretches your thighs and groin.
Savasana is the ultimate pranayama pose because it allows you to completely let go of tension and release your weight into the floor. It’s best for breathing exercises that are long and slow and don’t require using your hands, like square breath or Ujjayi breath.