The breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. In yoga it's very important, laying the foundation for the different types of movements that you do during class.
The type of breath that you use in yoga differs by practice and the particular flow that you're working on. The different styles of breathing in yoga have different benefits. Some give you more energy and strength in your poses, while some help you relax and melt into positions.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit word that refers to breath work in yoga. "Prana" means "life force" and "yama" means "to control", so pranayama means to control the breath. When you work on your breath in yoga you are deliberately changing the way you breathe to help you with whatever pose you're in.
Normally, breathing is involuntary, meaning you don't have to think about breathing all the time. Instead, your nervous system regulates your breath so that you can focus on other things.
By focusing on your breath in yoga you gain more control over your body. For example, breathing shallow breaths rapidly, like a panting dog, increases your heart rate, giving you energy. This type of breathing might be done before your practice starts to make you more awake and alert.
A slow, calm breath decreases your heart rate and makes you more relaxed — such as at the end of practice in Savasana. Pairing the correct breath with your yoga practice helps you get the most out of every pose.
Breathing exercises recommended
Ujjayi The next form of breath control is the most commonly practiced in yoga. Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath” in Sanskrit and is sometimes called the “ocean breath.” Ujjayi breath is an audible breath. This is formed by partially closing the epiglottal passage or slightly closing the throat. Much like Samavrtti, this breath is even. To practice Ujjayi close your mouth and breath in slowly and continuously for four counts. Exhale in the same manner, keeping the breath in through the nose. This form of breath control is said to help tone the internal organs, improve concentration, and more.
Kumbhaka: This is the practice of holding one’s breath, which is where this form draws its name. Kumbhaka in Sanskrit means “to retain the breath”. Continuing to build on the pranayama previously described, begin with Ujjayi. Once you have established a comfortable rhythm, hold your breath for four to eight counts in between every four breaths. In the beginning your Kumbhaka or retention should start off shorter. As you become more practiced in this art, begin increasing the retention. Also one may begin to reduce the number of breaths in between the retentions. Kumbhaka is believed to strengthen the diaphragm, restore energy and cleanse the respiratory system.
Kapalabhati : Kapalabhati is a traditional internal cleansing technique (kriya), and can be used as a simple warm-up for formal pranayama. Kapalabhati consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs. Focus on your lower belly. Many beginners aren't able to isolate and contract this area. If needed, cup one hand lightly in the other and press them gently against your lower belly. Now quickly contract (or pump your fisted hands against) your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs. Then quickly release the contraction (or your hands), so the belly "rebounds" to suck air into your lungs. Pace yourself slowly at first. Repeat eight to 10 times at about one exhale-inhale cycle every second or two.
As you become more adept at contracting/releasing your lower belly, you can increase your pace to about two exhale-inhale cycles every second. Imagine the exhale sweeping out or "brightening" the inner lining of your skull.
Benefit of breath control and holding exercises
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