How Does Pranayama Breathing Work?

The Exhale
May 6, 2022
5 min read

Breathing is an essential component of life. It’s the process through which our bodies maintain themselves and is an activity we maintain from the moment we’re born to the moment we die.

In short: breathing is pretty important.

You can think of your breathing as being like a garden. Maintaining your garden is vital and requires only a few minutes of every day to reap the best rewards. However, instead of using gardeners' tools, we instead use breathing exercises. One particular philosophy that remains highly popular is pranayama breathing.

So, in today's blog, we’ll be exploring the inner workings and origins of pranayama breathing and how this technique can help you achieve a more profound connection between your mind and body.

Read on!

Pranayama 101

Pranayama is not so much a specific exercise or technique for breathing as it is a collection of practices focused on a selection of goals:

  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Lower/stabilized blood pressure
  • Increased energy levels
  • Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm

The origins of pranayama come from yogic practices that date back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Specifically, pranayama refers to what yoga literature refers to as the “fourth limb” of the body. In yoga, each body has 8 “limbs” that represent different elements of the mind and spirit. The 4th limb, the pranayama, focuses on controlling the body's life force through breath.

The Science of Pranayama

Much of the effect of pranayama comes down to the impact that deep breathing practices have on the nervous system.

Specifically, deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, helps to stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that carries information signals from the body to the brain and is also linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s functions when in a state of rest. This runs counter to the sympathetic nervous system, which manages the body’s functions when in a state of stress.

When stimulated, the vagus nerve signals the brain to relax, reducing anxiety and lowering tension in the body.

Pranayama Breathing Techniques

If you’re interested in the process of learning pranayama, but you’re not sure where to start, then try out one of the following breathing techniques:

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is ideal for those times you may feel anxious or simply out of control. In the yogic tradition, this technique is known as Nadi Shodhana and is fantastic for those looking to feel calmer immediately and in control.

  • Sit comfortably before relaxing, closing your eyes, and unclenching your jaw.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee, and lift your right hand toward your nose.
  • Exhale completely, and use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril, then close the left nostril with your fingers.
  • Pause.
  • Open the right nostril, and exhale through this side.
  • Inhale through the right nostril, then close it.
  • Pause.

Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is arguably the most popular technique used in yogic practice and is often a feature in yoga classes. The great thing about belly breathing is that it’s simple, effective, and straightforward to implement into daily life.  

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Place your hand on your abdomen.
  • Inhale and notice your hand moving and belly expanding with your breath.
  • Exhale slowly and notice your hand moving back inward with the exhale.
  • Continue this breathing pattern as long as is needed to achieve calm.

For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here.

And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.


The Exhale