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Relax & Strengthen Your Lungs:
Pratiloma Ujjayi Pranayama

Our current pandemic is a daily reminder of the importance of healthy lungs. Protecting ourselves from exposure to the virus is a good start. We also need to stay calm and relaxed, strengthen our lungs, and keep our immune systems healthy.

A powerful way to do all of this is through the power of breath using an ancient technique called pratiloma ujjayi pranayama.

What is pratiloma ujjayi pranayama?

Pranayama is a sanskrit term for techniques used to regulate the breath.

Pratiloma refers to an action that is against the natural order of breath, or “breathing that goes against the grain.” One variation, used in pratiloma ujjayi, is called alternate nostril breathing and is a simple but powerful technique.

To give pratiloma—alternate nostril breathing—a try, sit in a comfortable place. Then take a few normal breaths to calm and center yourself.

Now, place your right hand on your face with your thumb resting on the right side of your nose. Your ring finger rests on the left side of your nose, and your index and middle fingers touch your forehead.

Close your right nostril with your thumb. Then inhale through your left nostril, mouth closed. Then close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your right. Breath out through your right nostril. Now inhale through the right. Close it off with your thumb and exhale through the left. Repeat this sequence several times ending with an exhale through the left nostril.

This practice alone is helpful for bringing calm into your life. Use it daily for stress relief and as a prelude to meditation or at the end of a yoga session.

In her memoir, Hillary Clinton describes using it often after she lost the 2016 presidential election.

As effective as it is alone, pratiloma it is even more so when you combine it with ujjayi breath.

To practice ujjayi breath, tighten your throat a bit (like when you whisper) and breathe through your nose.

When air moves in and out of your constricted throat, it sounds a bit like rushing wind or ocean waves. No doubt this is why it is sometimes also called “ocean breathing.”

When done correctly you and anyone close by can hear you breathe. Practice first with your mouth open to better hear your breath. Then do a few rounds with a closed mouth until you get the hang of it.

Put It All Together

Each of these breathing techniques is powerful alone, but combined they are even more so.

Here are the steps for this combined practice. Remember to only use ujjayi breath when inhaling or exhaling through both nostrils. When doing alternate nostril breathing, use normal breath.

  1. Start by breathing normally and naturally for a few rounds. Focus on your breath and feel your shoulders and neck relax as you calm down.
  2. Then inhale and exhale a few times using ujjayi breath.
  3. Place your fingers on your face in preparation for alternate nostril breathing. But first inhale through both nostrils using ujjayi.
  4. Now close off your right nostril with your thumb and exhale (remember no ujjayi, use normal breath) through your left nostril.
  5. Inhale through left nostril (no ujjayi).
  6. Release right nostril and exhale through both with ujjayi.
  7. Inhale using ujjayi.
  8. Close left nostril with ring finger and exhale normally through right.
  9. Inhale right.
  10. Release left nostril and exhale through both with ujjayi. 

Here is a great video of the practice from the Yoga Institute.

Do five or six rounds of steps 3–10, always starting with a full inhale through both nostrils using ujjayi. When inhaling, expand your belly and imagine the breath rising through your chest and raising your shoulders.

Notice how you feel after several rounds of this practice.

If you usually breathe shallowly and unconsciously you may feel a bit like you just had a workout. Your diaphragm muscles may feel a bit stressed. Or you may notice for the first time ever that you even have diaphragm muscles. If deep breathing is new to you, you could even feel a bit light headed from all that extra oxygen pouring into your system.

Don’t let this worry you. Regular practice will strengthen your lungs and and the muscles that support breathing. It will also help you enjoy good health and freedom from anxiety.

Take a Deep Breath

If you are someone who suffers from anxiety you may have had friends tell you to calm down and take a deep breath. If you followed their advice you probably felt relaxed and more able to deal with the stress.

Breathing is essential to keep you alive. If practiced consciously, it is also a powerful tool to manage anxiety.

When you focus on taking deep breaths you come fully into the present moment. There’s no way to breath either in the past or the future, where, if you are like many of us, you spend much of your time.

In the present moment you can step back and see your situation more clearly. Free from anxiety, you can make better decisions about what to do next. And breathing consciously can take you there.

Often, though, we breathe unconsciously and shallowly. When we do that, we deprive ourselves of the physical and mental benefits of fully using our lungs.

This is why practices like yoga have such a focus on breathing. If you’ve attended a yoga class you know how to take a full yogic breath. You learned to expand your belly and fill your lungs with enough air to raise your shoulders.

Pratiloma ujjayi takes this to the next level. And consistent practice can free you from anxiety while it strengthens muscles like the diaphragm that are required for effective breathing.

Stronger Lungs Mean Better Health

Do you suffer from breathing issues like asthma? Or perhaps digestive concerns, heart health problems, or depression? Are you often fatigued? Or do you wish you had more energy at the end of the day to do the things you love to do after a long day at work?

Regular practice of pratiloma ujjayi can help.

Studies show breathing practices like this help build your lung capacity beyond the estimated 40 percent most people use.

And deep breathing improves circulation, encourages toxin release, lowers anxiety and improves sleep. All of which promote a stronger immune system. Reduced blood pressure and a lower heart rate are other benefits.

As is the case elsewhere in our bodies, our lungs and the muscles that support breathing grow weak from lack of exercise. When this happens, we can suffer from a host of health issues from anxiety and depression to circulatory and digestive problems.

Which is why a practice like pratiloma ujjayi profoundly impacts all aspects of our health. And why the difference it makes will amaze you.

Start now to make it a regular part of your day.

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The breath is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for self-regulation, energy generation, and overall health. Our meditation retreats teach you these tools and ways to bring more clarity, joy, and peace to your life.
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