In yoga, we use different breathing techniques (pranayama in sanskrit) for various reasons. Today, we're introducing two different techniques that we typically use to help release stress, since that's the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week. If you've never tried any controlled breathing techniques before, don't worry if it seems difficult at first. Over time and with practice you'll (hopefully) notice your breath becoming smoother, easier, and longer. As with anything, it takes practice so be kind and gentle to yourself.
Three Part Pranayama / Full Yogic
Three-part pranayama is a basic but powerful method for introducing the practice of controlled breathing, and awakening accessory muscles of breath. The goal is to produce a consistent, deep rhythm of breathing, where the inhalations and exhalations are approximately equal in length and volume. Inhalation begins in the pit of the belly, travelling up into the lower half of the rib cage, and finishes in the upper chest beneath the collarbones. Exhalation begins in the collarbones and travels back down through the lower ribcage before ending in the belly.
The breath here does not necessarily have to be audible (in comparison to ujayi), and the focus should be on slow, focussed and controlled movements in the accessory muscles of breath & the diaphragm.
Begin in a comfortable seated position; it may be nice to sit on a block or cushion to elevate the pelvis. Exhale completely, drawing in the abdominal muscles. Inhale from the belly button, puffing the belly out as you do so, continue inhaling into the rib cage, expanding in out in all four directions, finally draw the breath into the upper chest, visualising your collarbones moving apart. As you exhale, let the collarbones come back together, then the rib cage contract, and finally the belly draws back in.
Find a comfortable seated position. Take the index finger and middle finger of your right hand to the space between your eyebrows, letting your thumb rest beside your right nostril and your fourth finger rest beside your left nostril. Close your eyes and exhale through both nostrils. Close your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through your left nostril. Close your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril, and exhale through your left.
This constitutes 1 full round (beginning and ending with the left nostril). You may practice as many rounds as you like — perhaps first aiming for 5-10. Try not to force or push your breath, though you may like to try and breath roughly evenly across both nostrils.
Let us know if you try either of these techniques and what your experience was like in the comments below!