How to Practice Pranayama – The 4th Limb of Yoga

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Pranayama, a Sanskrit word meaning “The control of vital life force,” is the fourth out of eight limbs of yoga (asana, or poses, being the third.) There are different techniques to practice within Pranayama depending on what effect you’re after, whether it’s something energizing or calming. All techniques can be practiced in an upright seated position with the legs crossed, though certain calming breaths may be performed while laying down. When finished with any pranayama practice, sit quietly for a few moments to let the effects sink in.

Complete Breath

This is one form of pranayama that can be practiced laying down. It’s also one of the most recommended for beginners to get used to the effects of breathing deeply. Sit up straight in a cross-legged position or lay flat on your back on a yoga mat. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Breathe into your abdomen for two counts, then move your attention to your side ribs and breathe in for another two counts. From there move to your chest and inhale for a final two counts, imagining your body inflating fully with fresh oxygen. End with a six count exhale. Repeat five to 10 times.

Skull Shining Breath

This breath, also known as “Breath of Fire,” is an energizing and invigorating breath. From a seated position, inhale halfway and exhale forcefully through your nose, imaging your belly contracting inward. Don’t focus on the inhale, in this practice, it is passive and will come on its own. Repeat anywhere from 10-75 times, increasing your pace to about one breath per second.