Breathing – it’s an essential part of our daily lives and most of the time, we tend not to think about it.
But often, the way we are breathing can give valuable insight into our physical and mental wellbeing. When you’re feeling stressed, you might hold your breath. Or your breathing can become sharp and panicked when feeling anxious.
Breathwork is an important part of the traditional yoga practice. There’s a lot we can learn about ‘Pranayama’ (breath control) for our daily wellbeing.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit term, with ‘prana’ meaning ‘breath’ or ‘vital force’ and ‘ayama’ meaning ‘restraint’ or ‘control’. Typically there are three parts of pranayama: inhalation, retention and exhalation. It can be done alone, or alongside your yoga practice.
What are the benefits? “The purpose of controlling our breath in this way is to experience greater rejuvenation and restoration from our breathing,” says Dr Megan C Hayes. Breathwork is not only useful in gauging our physical and mental state, but it can also bring about calmness, energise us, boost focus and aid sleep.
The best thing about this practice is that it is simple – no matter what you’re doing or where you are, you can take a moment to control your breath.
Try this simple breath control exercise
Ujjayi, known as ‘ocean breath’ is a common pranayama exercise. It is called this way because the noise you make sounds a bit like ocean waves.
It’s characterised by a soft restriction in the throat, like a gentle snore, creating a raspy sound. “As this is the kind of breathing we do naturally when we sleep, it is considered especially restorative and soothing,” says Dr Hayes.
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to relaxed, either seated in a chair on cross-legged on the floor.
- Close your eyes and gently open your mouth. Notice the rhythm of your natural breathing.
- On your out-breath, slightly restrict your throat to create a raspy ‘ahh’ sound when breathing (like you are fogging up a window)
- Repeat this in and out