In this Web Extra to the January 2016 Inner IDEA column, “Peace, Love, Yoga,” author Linda Webster offers guidelines on five basic breath practices.

Basic Breath Awareness (suitable for all students)

  • Ask students to just “notice” or “observe” the breath as it is.
  • Suggest paying attention to the length of the inhalation and of the exhalation.
  • Suggest paying attention to physical sensations: Where does the breath touch? Where does it linger? Is there sound to the breath?
  • Suggest beginning to use only the nostrils for both breath phases, if comfortable.
  • See if students can begin to lengthen the breath—taking more air in, and gently controlling the exhalation.

Diaphragmatic Breath (3-Part Breath) (suitable for most; women late in pregnancy and students with breathing disorders should exercise caution)

  • Inhale all the way to the pelvic floor, expanding the diaphragm (low belly), then the ribs (all directions) and then the chest.
  • Exhale from the pelvic floor, engaging mula bandha (pelvic-floor contraction) and uddiyana bandha (low belly to spine) to press breath out of the diaphragm first, then the ribs and then the chest.
  • Note that the sequencing of both breath phases is “bottom to top.”
  • Cue the inhalation as expanding/lifting.
  • Cue the exhalation as contracting/supporting.

Ujjayi Breath (Breath of a Soft Whisper) (suitable for most—if uncomfortable do not practice)

  • Guide students to inhale, then open their mouth on the exhalation as if they were trying to fog up a mirror
    (you can have them place their hands in front of their mouth to feel the “fogging”).
  • After several breaths, ask them to close their mouth on the exhalation and try to simulate the same “fogging.”
  • Next instruct them to try to create the same noise and sensation on the inhalation and exhalation; the sound provides another element of focus.
  • Sugggest they can try using this breath during asana practice as well.

Counting Breath 1 (suitable for all)

  • Encourage students to put a count to their inhalation and their exhalation.
  • Ask if they can even the breath out until both breath phases have an equal count.
  • Let each student create his or her own count.
  • Ask students to notice (just “observe”) if they need to adjust one breath phase or both.

Counting Breath 2 (suitable for all)

  • After students have tuned into the breath, suggest they think about their energy level.
  • If they feel they need to find more energy, have them try to lengthen their inhalation until it is 2–4 counts longer than their exhalation (emphasis: energizing).
  • If they feel they need to find more calm, have them try to lengthen their exhalation until it is 2–4 counts longer than their inhalation (emphasis: calming).

Note: With all pranayama practices, those who have high or low blood pressure, have breathing disorders or are pregnant should proceed with caution.