While the word “yoga” refers to a vast range of things (from moral-ethical codes to discipline of the body and mind) its practical emphasis always lies in the breath.

Yogic meditation is often called pranayama — loosely translated as “breath control.” While Buddhist meditations tend to focus on passively observing the breath, yogic meditations, like pranayama, focus on actively controlling it.

Here are three pranayama meditation techniques that you can practice at home:

#1 – Restful Sleep and Calm with the Anuloma-Viloma Technique

The anuloma-viloma technique (also known as “alternate nostril breathing”) is especially helpful when you are exhausted, stressed, or anxious. The slow, calming rhythm of anuloma-viloma brings natural rest to the mind, and releases tension from the stressed out parts of the body.

How To Do the Anuloma-Viloma Technique:

  • You can perform this technique either seated comfortably or lying down.
  • Start by emptying out your lungs of air.
  • Place a thumb on the left nostril and inhale for four seconds through the the right nostril. Make sure to inhale into your belly (not into your chest).
  • Hold “full” for eight seconds.
  • Before you exhale, switch your thumb to block the right nostril instead of the left. Exhale fully through the left nostril. The exhale should take four seconds as well.
  • Hold “empty” for four seconds.
  • Inhale through the left nostril (four seconds), and switch your thumb before you exhale through the right nostril (four seconds).
  • This — inhale-right, exhale-left, inhale-left, exhale-right — constitutes one complete cycle.
  • Use a four-count when you are starting out (inhale for four seconds, hold “full” for eight seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold “empty” for four seconds).
  • Perform ten cycles, to feel the pranayama breathing benefits coming over your body.

#2 – Internal Cleansing with Kapalbhatti Pranayama

“Skull-shining” or Kapalbhatti pranayama can help clear up the nasal and aural passages, and other blockages of channels with mucus. The benefits are numerous: relief from congestion, better breathing, reduced bloating, improved lung capacity, and invigoration with building of heat in the body. The Kapalbhatti method is simple and can be easily incorporated into the schedule of yoga breathing exercises for beginners.

How To Do Kapalbhatti Pranayama:

  • Start by exhaling from the bottom of your belly while seated on a straight-backed seat in an upright posture.
  • Push all the air out of your body by by pulling your navel toward your spine.
  • Now (while keeping the navel pulled toward the spine), take a big inhale with both nostrils, followed by a sharp exhalation. Follow this with a soft inhalation.
  • Maintain a habit of 30 counts of inhale-exhale every day, with gaps for deep breathing in between.
  • Feel free to begin with 15 counts of inhalation and exhalation per day, working your way up to 30 counts gradually.

The benefits of the Kapalbhatti technique can be experienced most acutely when you are feeling congested or bloated. But remember not to try this with a full stomach.

#3 – Calming the Mind with Full Expansion of the Lungs: Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi pranayama is a vigorous breath pattern. Literally translated, Ujjayi pranayama means “victory breathing” or “breath of victory.” It is also sometimes called “ocean-breath” because of the ocean-like sounds that it creates. Through Ujjayi pranayama, we encourage complete expansion of the lungs, and thus facilitate relaxation and calmness in the mind.

How To Do the Ujjayi Pranayama Technique:

  • Sit comfortably with an erect spine and begin drawing in fresh gusts of breath through both nostrils, inhaling to the entire capacity of your lungs.
  • Follow this by holding onto the breath for a few seconds longer, constricting this gulp of air at the back of your throat as though you are about to whisper a secret. Now exhale thoroughly through both nostrils.
  • The exhalation must come out in a forceful gust and as you do this you must feel the air rush on the roof of your mouth.

By practicing these three pranayama breathing exercises every day, you’ll be well on your way to developing a well-rounded and fulfilling yogic meditation practice.

The benefits of pranayama meditation are best experienced when combined with a full-body yoga practice.

For more information about yogic breathing styles, check out Manmohan’s comprehensive blog post on intensive breathing techniques!