Yoga breathing exercises sharpen your body and mind.
On the physical side, they improve your intake of oxygen and tolerance for carbon dioxide, both of which help physical performance. On the mental side, they help reduce stress and anxiety and help you maintain a calm state of being.
All yoga breathing exercises are built on the Yogi Complete Breath
If you haven’t already been practicing your belly breathing and your Yogi Complete Breath, please go back to those pages now, practice them until you feel sufficiently strong in those, then come on back here. All the exercises we’ll cover here start with the complete breath and add interesting and challenging new elements.
The Yogi Cleansing Breath
“The Yogi Cleansing Breath ventilates and cleanses the lungs, stimulates the cells and gives a general tone to the respiratory organs and is conducive to their general healthy condition.”
– Yogi Ramacharaka
The Yogi Cleansing Breath is traditionally used to conclude most other yoga breathing exercises. Whenever I’m sitting and practicing any of these or other advanced breathing exercises, I’ll end the session with this breath. One round of Yogi Cleansing Breath should be performed at the end of every breathing exercise given, whether the exercise is based on Yogi Ramacharaka’s work or Juliu Horvath’s.
- Inhale a Complete Breath.
- Retain the breath for a few seconds.
- Pucker your lips as if to whistle (but do not swell out the cheeks) then exhale a little air through the opening with considerable vigor. Then stop for a moment, retaining the air, then exhale a little more air. Repeat until the air is completely exhaled.
- As a GYROTONIC® addition to this, when there appears to be no more breath to be expelled, squeeze every last bit of air you can out of your lungs, even to the point of coughing.
The sustaining of a complete breath is beneficial on many levels: it can strengthen and develop the respiratory muscles as well as the lungs themselves and will tend to expand the chest. It will also more fully oxygenate the blood, help clear old stale air from the lungs and increase the elimination of waste matter from the blood. For people who have neglected their breathing, this is probably the best yoga breathing exercise to add to their practice once the Yogi Complete Breath and Cleansing Breath have been mastered.
- Sit or stand erect.
- Inhale a Complete Breath.
- Retain the air as long you as you comfortably can.
- Exhale vigorously through the open mouth.
- Practice the Cleansing Breath.
As a variation on this breath, once you’ve inhaled and are retaining the breath, move your spine and rib cage in every way imaginable. Get air to pour into every corner of your lungs.
Nerve Strengthening – as taught by Juliu Horvath
If you were to read Yogi Ramacharaka’s book you’d see a version of this exercise in Chapter 10. I had learned this exercise through my GYROKINESIS® training before I had read “The Science of Breath”. There is a minor difference between the two exercises, in that Juliu has you gently bend your knees with the inhale, while Ramacharaka has you remain fully upright. I can’t comment on why Juliu added in the knee bend but it seems to add a tai chi element to this yoga breathing exercise and I’ve always like this version.
- Stand erect.
- While inhaling a Complete Breath, bring your arms up to shoulder level while also gently bending the knees. The arms should be somewhat limp and relaxed, with only enough nervous energy to keep bring them up and hold them in place.
- Begin to slowly draw the arms in to your body, elbows bent, until your hands are on your rib cage under your armpits, all the while tensing up every muscle in your body (except your facial muscles) and curling your hands into tight fists.
- Then, maintaining the muscular tension, slowly reach your arms in front of you then draw them back rapidly, maintaining the muscular tension. Repeat this motion several times.
- Exhale vigorously through the mouth while pushing your palms toward the ground and returning to a fully erect position.
- Relax all your muscles then perform the Cleansing Breath.
Another advancement to yoga breathing exercises is to add timing. One of the most popular versions of a timed breathing exercise is also my favorite and most commonly practiced exercise, Alternate Nostril Breathing.
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