A fresh new year has arrived, and we’re diving in with new goals and dreams. Almost everyone has something personal they’d like to change or develop. Maybe you’ve finally mustered the courage to ask for that raise at work. Perhaps you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone and make new social connections, or maybe 2018 is the year you finally want to put a damper on high stress levels.

Many people have a plan of action about how they want to go about achieving their goals. You might be raring to go, or perhaps you’re a little apprehensive about diving into something new. Whatever you hope to accomplish this year, it never hurts to begin with a little preparation. We don’t even have to look beyond ourselves; our breath is one of the most powerful forces we can possess as humans. Think about it, our breath carries the ability to give life or take it away. The way we breathe effects our whole body and can have a significant impact on our mood and energy.

Breathing is the way we introduce fresh air to our muscles and remove waste gases. When we inhale, oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream and carried to your heart. It is then pumped throughout your entire body. As the cells use oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide that goes back into the blood, where it gets carried to your lungs and expelled via exhalation. It’s no wonder our bodies tense up when we hold our breath!

What’s really amazing is that when we harness the power of our breath, different ways of breathing can deliver a variety results. Depending on the type of breath you take, you can do everything from wake up your brain and boost energy to calm the mind and reduce anxiety. This article will cover 5 breathing techniques, their benefits, and how you can use them to prepare for tackling any resolution.

I recommend that all pranayama (breath work) begins with a minute or two of deep belly breathing to calm the body and settle the mind. Come to a comfortable position, seated or lying down, with relaxed shoulders and eyes gently closed.

FOCUS – Victorious Breath (Ujjayi:)

Ujjayi, which is Sanskrit for victorious, is also known as the “ocean breath” for the sound it creates. This breath brings meditative feelings of presence. Ujjayi breath is popular in yoga classes to help tune into a pose. It  increases the amount of oxygen in your blood and builds heat to energize the body. This is a good breathing technique to practice when you’re feeling frustrated, as it’s known to relieve tension and regulate blood pressure.

To create the oceanic sound this breath is known for, try exhaling like you’re fogging up a mirror (it should sound something like “haah”.) Now close your mouth, and repeat the same thing. You’ll feel your throat muscles constrict and sound a lot like Darth Vader.

  1. Seal your lips, and take a deep breath in through the nose.
  2. Exhale through the nose, constricting throat muscles.
  3. Focus on the calming flow of breath for at least 5 minutes.

RELAX – Cooling Breath (Sitali:)

This breath gets its name because it literally cools down the air you’re breathing to relieve nerves. As your inhalation travels through a channel created by your mouth, the air picks up moisture for an extra hydrating breath. The cooling breath is known to calm the nervous system, as well as reduce fatigue and high blood pressure. 

  1. Form an “O” with your mouth. Stick your tongue out a little, and curl the ends together to create a tube or channel.
  2. Inhale through the mouth, like the tongue is a straw you’re sipping air from.
  3. Allow the belly to expand, and focus on the cooling sensation as the air passes into your lungs.
  4. Retract the tongue to close your lips, and exhale through the nose. Repeat for 2-3 minutes.

FIERCE- Lion’s Breath (Simhasana:)

You will probably feel silly while practicing lion’s breath, but that’s half the fun! This type of breath is great for relieving tension in the jaw and face. It improves blood circulation, helps respiratory ailments, and stimulates the nerves in your eyes. Lion’s breath releases negative energy and helps you feel empowered. Use this breath to pump yourself up and tap into your inner beast.

  1. Begin kneeling or seated, with hands on knees and fingers splayed wide.
  2. Inhale through the nose.
  3. Exhale forcefully through the mouth with a “HAA” sound, opening your mouth and extending the tongue down as far as possible. Allow the eyes to roll up toward the space between your eyebrows (your 3rd eye.)
  4. Return to a neutral face on your next inhale. Repeat at least 5x.

CALM – Alternating Nostril Breath (Nadi Shodhana:)

Nadi shodhana translates to “channel purification.” This breathing technique fosters concentration and mental clarity. It is known to clear the respiratory system and balances hormones. Practice nadi shodhana when you want to ease anxiety or feel cleansed. (I recommend keeping a tissue nearby to blow your nose before and after practicing this breath style.)

  1. Fold down the index and middle finger of your right hand.
  2. Use your right thumb to seal the right nostril.
  3. First, exhale deeply through your left nostril. Then, inhale through the left nostril, allowing your ribs to expand. Pause at the top.
  4. Next, use your ring and pinky finger to close the left nostril.
  5. Release the right thumb, and exhale out the right nostril. Pause for a moment, and then inhale through the right nostril.
  6. Seal the right nostril with your thumb again, release the ring and pinky finger, and exhale out the left nostril.
  7. Continue this alternating sequence for at least 5 minutes, keeping your breath fluid and relaxed.

STRESSLESS – Counting Breath:

This way of breathing has been shown to reduce cortisol, so it’s a good one to practice when you feel like you’re stressed to the max. It is really easy to do, and the numbers to remember are 4, 7, 8.

  1. Inhale for a count of 4.
  2. Hold that breath for 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale slowly and fully for a count of 8. Repeat at least 5x.

Enjoy!

-Erin Hackbarth, LulaFit trainer

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