Pranayama Lecture


Breathing is one of our most vital functions and is essential for our existence.  Breath brings oxygen to our organs and systems and is critical for our survival, without the ability to breathe we cannot stay alive.  Pranayama is the focus and attention to proper breathing, as well as breath awareness exercises that develop lung capacity, promote oxygenation of our blood, purifies the lungs, and creates a sense of calm and relaxation.  

“‘Pranayama is control of Breath’. ‘Prana’ is Breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and ‘ayama’ means control. So Pranayama is ‘Control of Breath’. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve healthy body and mind. Patanjali in his text of Yoga Sutras mentioned pranayama as means of attaining higher states of awareness; he mentions the holding of breath as important practice of reaching Samadhi.”

Pranayama Techniques and Practices:

Ujjayi Pranayama

Nadi Shodhona


Lion’s Breath

3-Part Breathing


Ujjayi: Pronounced “oo-jai” or “oo-jai-ee”

Ujjayi Pranayama is an ancient style of breathing that helps to energize and create internal heat, as well as relax and promote a sense of calm and focus.  Ujjayi is often translated to “victorious breath” and helps balance the systems of the body.  Practicing this style of breath work helps create heat in the body, and keeping the lips sealed will allow the heat to remain within.  Ujjayi breath also naturally helps the practitioner to deepen their breath, taking longer inhales and slower exhales.  Ujjayi can be taught in a number of different ways.  For newer students it is helpful to demonstrate the proper technique as well as the sound that should be audible with this style of breathing.  Ujjayi breath is through the nose only, the lips remain sealed throughout the practice unless otherwise directed.

Ujjayi Practice:

  1. Inhale through your nose fully and deeply.  Open your mouth wide and exhale making an elongated “Haaa” sound.  Do this several times with longer inhales and slower exhales.
  2. Inhale through your nose fully and deeply.  Keep your lips sealed, breathe out through your nose slowly and make the same “Haaa” sound with your mouth closed and a gentle constriction of the muscles at the back of your throat.  The sound should be reminiscent of ocean waves, wind in the trees, or Darth Vader breathing.
  3. Avoid tension in the jaw or the muscles of the face.  Avoid clenching your throat.

“Try shifting into Ujjayi breath whenever you find yourself becoming aggravated or stressed, and you should notice a prompt soothing effect. If you practice yoga, focusing on Ujjayi breathing will help you stay focused and centered as you flow from one posture to the next.”

Nadi Shodhona: Pronounced “nah-dee show-dah-nah”

Nadi Shodhona is a powerful breathing technique that helps bring a sense of calmness and balance to the mind, the body, and emotions.  It is helpful to practice Nadi Shodhona or “alternate nostril breathing”before meditation to help calm the monkey mind or any anxiety being experienced, relieve stress and tension, help to promote relaxation.  Nadi Shodhona can also be practiced before bed to help you fall asleep.  Nadi Shodhona creates balance by regulating the flow of air in one nostril, while restricting the airflow of the alternate nostril.  On a subtle level this connects to the energy lines of the body, or the Nadis.  The Ida is the energy channel that starts at the base of the spine and ends through the left nostril, it is cooling and carries moon energy.  The Pingala is the energy channel that starts at the base of the spine and ends through the right nostril, it is warming and carries sun energy.  The Sushumna is the most important Nadi and rises up the spine from its base, to the crown of your head.  Prana moves through all of the nadis, and cleansing the nadis with breath work helps to keep pranic energy moving seamlessly, promoting health and well-being.  


“There are several different styles of Nadi Shodhana, but they all serve the purpose of creating balance and regulating the flow of air through your nasal passages. In fact, the term Nadi Shodhana means ‘clearing the channels of circulation.’

Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing

“With just a few minutes of alternate nostril breathing, you can restore balance and ease in the mind and body. Sometimes when we feel frazzled or find ourselves doing too many things at once, it’s because energetically, we are out of alignment. This breath is great for restoring that necessary balance.

In addition to calming the mind and reversing stress, alternate nostril breathing also:

* Improves our ability to focus the mind

* Supports our lungs and respiratory functions

* Restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and clears the energetic channels

* Rejuvenates the nervous system

* Removes toxins

Whether you’re nervous about a project or presentation, anxious about a conversation, or just generally stressed out, Nadi Shodhana is a quick and calming way to bring you back to your center. If you find it difficult to settle into your meditations, try moving through a few rounds first, then remain seated and shift directly into stillness; this should help to ground you before meditation.”

Nadi Shodhana Practice

“Next time you find yourself doing too many things at once, or you sense panic or anxiety begin to rise, move through a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. It’s a great way to hit the reset button for your mental state.

  1. Take a comfortable and tall seat, making sure your spine is straight and your heart is open.
  2. Relax your left palm comfortably into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
  3. With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor. The fingers we’ll be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
  4. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
  5. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
  6. Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
  7. Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  8. Inhale through the right side slowly.
  9. Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
  10. 10. Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
  11. 11. Repeat 5-10 cycles, allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales.

Steps 5-9 represent one complete cycle of alternate nostril breathing. If you’re moving through the sequence slowly, one cycle should take you about 30-40 seconds. Move through 5-10 cycles when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or in need of a reset button.

Tip: Consistency is helpful, so try to match the length of your inhales, pauses, and exhales. For example, you can start to inhale for a count of five, hold for five, exhale for five, hold for five. You can slowly increase your count as you refine your practice.”

Full article at

Kapalabhati: Pronounced “cap-all-ah-baa-tee”

Kapalabhati breathing is useful for energizing, promoting focus, as well as releasing toxins and stress from the body with forceful exhales and passive inhales. 

Translated to “skull shining breath” or “breath of fire,” this yogic breathing technique helps bring you into the present moment, calm and center the mind, “release negative emotions, shake off sluggishness, and energize the body.”

Here’s how to perform Kapalabhati:

Sit comfortably in an upright posture and rest your hands on your lower belly.

Inhale deeply through your nostrils.

In a quick motion, forcefully expel all the air from your lungs while drawing your 

navel in toward your spine. The primary movement is from your diaphragm.

Allow your lungs to fill up naturally, with no effort. Perform this cycle 10 times, 

then allow your breathing return to normal and observe the sensations in your 

body. Repeat these cycles of 10 movements 3 to 4 times.

Contraindication: Do not practice Kapalabhati if you are pregnant, or if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or abdominal pain. You should also stop if you feel dizzy.

See full article at

Another useful article with directions for how to practice Kapalabhati breathing

Other pranayama / breathing techniques:

Lion’s Breath:

“Kneel on the floor and cross the front of the right ankle over the back of the left. The feet will point out to the sides. Sit back so the perineum snuggles down onto the top (right) heel.

Press your palms firmly against your knees. Fan the palms and splay your fingers like the sharpened claws of a large feline.

Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Then simultaneously open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out, curling its tip down toward the chin, open your eyes wide, contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct “ha” sound. The breath should pass over the back of the throat.

Some texts instruct us to set our gaze (drishti) at the spot between the eyebrows. This is called “mid-brow gazing” (bhru-madhya-drishti; bhru = the brow; madhya = middle).Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose (nasa-agra-drishti; nasa = nose; agra = foremost point or part, i.e., tip).
You can roar two or three times. Then change the cross of the legs and repeat for the same number of times.”

Content found at

Three Part Breathing:

“Benefits – Focuses the attention on the present moment, calms and grounds the mind.

This pranayama exercise is often done while seated in a comfortable, cross-legged position, but it is also nice to do while lying on the back, particularly at the beginning of your practice. When you are lying down, you can really feel the breath moving through your body as it makes contact with the floor.

1. Come to lie down on the back with the eyes closed, relaxing the face and the body.

2. Begin by observing the natural inhalation and exhalation of your breath without changing anything. If you find yourself distracted by the activity in your mind, try not to engage in the thoughts. Just notice them and then let them go, bringing your attention back to the inhales and the exhales.

3.Then begin to inhale deeply through the nose.

4. On each inhale, fill the belly up with your breath. Expand the belly with air like a balloon.

5. On each exhale, expel all the air out from the belly through your nose. Draw the navel back towards your spine to make sure that the belly is empty of air.

6. Repeat this deep belly breathing for about five breaths.

7. On the next inhale, fill the belly up with air as described above. Then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart.

8. On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and then from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.

9. Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for about five breaths.

10. On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air as described above. Then draw in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around the heart (called the heart center in yoga), expand and rise.

11. On the exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the heart center sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.

12. You are practicing three-part breath! Continue at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.

13. Continue for about 10 breaths.

Content found at

“The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestion, and constipation. It is considered a Shat Karma, which is an internal cleansing to aid with excess phlegm, mucus, or fat. The Gheranda Samhita, which predates the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, describes Nauli as such: “With great force move the stomach and intestines from one side to the other.” It also claims that it destroys all diseases and increases the bodily fire. In addition, Nauli tones the abdominal muscles and massages the internal organs.”

“Mastery of the three locks, Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara Bandha, is essential to practice Nauli. Mula bandha seals vital energy at the perineum (floor of the pelvis) and Jalandhara closes the current at the glottis (pit of the throat) so that any toxin cleansing heat generated in the torso does not move into the higher centers. Uddiyana bandha begins with a forceful exhalation followed by a sharp sucking up of the intestines and diaphragm into a vacuum created in the thoracic cavity.”

“Begin with Uddiyana. Stand with your knees bent, feet slightly wider than hip width, and the hands braced against the thighs. Lower the chin to nest in the notch between the collarbones, at the pit of the throat. Exhale forcefully so that the lungs empty quickly and, holding the breath, mimic the action of inhalation. Keep the stomach muscles soft and allow the abdomen to be drawn up, like an elevator, toward the chest. The impulse to inhale from the pelvic floor should push open the thoracic cavity, as if the end of a balloon were held at the perineum and inflated from within. Keep the facial muscles soft, quiet, relaxed, and look toward the torso. Maintain the internal hydraulic lift and hold for several seconds. To release, prolong the chin lock and relax the sides of the chest, loosening the internal vacuum and abdominal lift. Relax the throat and lift the chin slightly before you inhale to avoid gasping. The transition out of Uddiyana Bandha should be gentle and vigilant.”

“To practice Nauli, assume Uddiyana Bandha. Shift some of your weight over to one side and roll the rectus abdominus (the long muscle that’s often referred to as the “six-pack”) along the back waist and toward that side. Continue to roll the abdominal organs in a wave-like action along the inner rear surface of the abdominal wall. Complete one wave by rolling toward the front surface and back to where you began. Do each side several times.”

“[It is suggested that] Uddiyana should not be repeated for more than eight times at a stretch during a 24-hour period. In addition, those with heart disease, hypertension, or ulcers should not attempt it.”

Content found at By LISA WALFORD Aug 28, 2007


  1. Pick one of the above five pranayama practices to practice daily for one week (or 7 days total if not consecutively).  Write in your journal which technique you chose and WHY.
  2. Practice the pranayama technique that you chose for 7-consecutive or non-consecutive days.  Write in your journal 3-4 sentences everyday about how you feel, what changes have occurred, the benefits you have discovered, and anything else that arises for you.
  3. Be honest with yourself, if you miss a day, write down why.  Make sure to do at least 7-days worth of this practice and write about each day in your journal.
  4. At the end of the 7-day practice, write about how the practice of incorporating regular pranayama exercises has benefitted you.  Discuss if and how you will incorporate this into your regular routine.