Pranayama breath control

Blog Pranayama Power Flow Yoga

“When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika


Pranayama is the mastery of energy

There are many breathing techniques (Pranayamas) which tap into the internal body to activate, energise or relax the body and mind. The breath is the only part of our autonomic nervous system which can be controlled intentionally. All other functions happen automatically, heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature etc. When we panic, see danger or risk we breathe in fast short pants. This alone releases hormones which switch on our fight or flight stress mode. Our body reacts by taking most of our inner energy to our muscles and brain, charging them ready to pounce or react. Simply slowing down the breath informs our central nervous system, through the vagus nerve, there is no risk externally. So we switch to rest and digest mode, automatically reducing our stress hormones, which then moves energy from our tense muscles to our less immediately important systems for immediate survival such as digestion, immunity and reproduction, all essential for good physical and mental health.

Factors contributing to our busy lives – like; lack of exercise, stress and tension – can create both physical and energetic blockages. Our breath can become shallow restricting the flow of energy through our body.

Pranayama breathing exercises draw in and free the life energy within us. With regular practice, you can energise, relax and heal your entire body.

  • Breath is the fuel that gives life and is the link between the body and mind.
  • Simply controlling the breath to change your body chemistry, which in turn calms your mind, removing stress and anxiety.
  • Refining the breath is beneficial to health, steadies the body & aids concentration of the mind. 
  • Pranayama exercises strengthen and purify the lungs and are beneficial for many breathing conditions.
  • The long deep exhale removes stale air from our lungs. 
  • Retention of the inhalation increases the prana and oxygen intake.

During practice of Pranayama the eyes should be closed to eliminate visual distractions.

The breath has two phases:

  1. > inhalation 
  2. < exhalation

The below breathing exercises are designed to calm the mind. The breath can also be used to activate or energise the body and mind.


Ujjayi Breathing

Ujjayi breath is deep thoracic breathing. It is achieved with a Jalandhara Bundha which produces a light hissing sound in the back of the throat.

With your mouth open, try exhaling the sound “HAAAAH”— as if you’re trying to mist up a mirror. Close your mouth and attempt a similar sound, feeling the outflow of air through your nostrils. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the in-breath. 

This practise will warm the breath and if you can focus your mind in the sensation and sound of this breath it will keep you ‘in the moment’ helping to stop the mind create stories of the future or the past, which often creates more stress than real life.


Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama)

Nadi Shodhan balances the yin and the yang of our inner body and mind, or in scientific language it balances the the sympathetic and the parasympathetic side of our central nervous system.



1. Sit comfortably if on a chair keeping your spine straight and away from the back of the chair. Drop your shoulders and lift the top of your head towards the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Be alert but relaxed in your posture.

2. Lightly place the tips of your right index and middle fingers on your forehead between your eyebrows. Close your eyes and gaze internally at the point your fingers touch your forehead.

3. Your ring finger resting on the left nostril and thumb resting your right nostril.

4. Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out gently through your left nostril for a slow count of 4, about heartbeat pace.

5. Breathe in through your left nostril at the same pace.

6. Close the left nostril gently with your ring finger while removing your right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right nostril at the same, long slow pace.

7. Breathe in from your right nostril. This is one round complete.

8. Switch nostrils and repeat this breathing technique for 3-5 minutes.


Square Breathing

Simply slowing down the breath and holding the breath between the inhale and exhale. Practise sitting comfortably and breathing through both nostrils. Do not retain the breath if you think you might be pregnant.

The square is formed with: 

  • a long slow inhale (count of 4)
  • then a breath retention (count of 4)
  • a long slow exhale (count of 4)
  • then a breath retention (count of 4)


Rectangle Breathing

This is the same as square breathing but lengthening the holds. 

The rectangle is formed with: 

  • a long slow inhale (count of 4)
  • then a breath retention (count of 5-15)
  • a long slow exhale (count of 4)
  • then a breath retention (count of 5-15)


Do any of these exercises for 3-5 minutes when you feel stressed, or even better every morning, to keep stress levels under control. These are all great Pranayama’s to practise before mediation.

By Paul Selvey

Paul has practised Yoga for over two decades and taught Yoga full time for 8 years. With 1000+ hours of advanced teacher training he shapes a mix of movement, breathing, kriya, sound therapy and meditation techniques to suit his students, from beginner to advanced.

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