Breathing Yoga Meditation­- As a Primer

breathing yoga meditation you

Breathing is an essential aspect of Yoga. But why? Learn more about Breathing Yoga Meditation and its techniques here.


Recalling the last ten guided meditation classes you attended, do you remember the first thing your meditation teacher said before the start of the meditation? It’s most likely “Focus on your breath!” I’ve been to so many meditation classes, and it has always been the same: Be aware of your breathing. But why is breathing so important? This article will explain the importance of breathing as a yoga meditation primer.

Breathing Yoga Meditation

Being conscious and controlling your breathing is a basic yet powerful skill, especially in meditation. At the start of most meditation sessions, the teacher will likely tell you to “take a deep breath” or “focus on the natural rhythm of your breath.” That is because the breath controls and affects your nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system is a part of your nervous system that controls involuntary physiologic processes such as your digestion, heart rate, blood rate, sexual arousal and you guessed it – your breath.

This system is split into your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is where your fight-flight and freeze response happens. Like the digest response, the rest happens in your parasympathetic nervous system.

Both of these parts are active in the body and are necessary. The sympathetic nervous system is essential for keeping us safe from real dangers. For example, when there is a fire, your body gives you an adrenaline rush to make you run away from it as fast as possible. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to relax and recharge. It regulates your energy without you having to do it actively. You only need to sit down or sleep, which automatically works to heal your body.

While both parts are necessary, many of us have an overactive sympathetic nervous system because of our modern-day stressors. But the good news is – you can manage your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems through your breath.

The breath is involuntary, but you can also control it. That is why the breath is an excellent primer for meditation. But conscious or mindful breathing is a meditation on its own.

You can use it to help you focus and achieve your goal. For example, let’s say your goal is to calm your mind because you need to rest. You can use deep and slow breathing exercises to achieve that. If, on the other, your goal is to drum up energy for the day, do breathing exercises that are fast-paced and shallow such as Kapalabhati breathing.

Breathing Exercises and Techniques

Here are the top five breathing exercises, or Pranayama as they call it in yoga terminology, which you can practice for any goal you may have.

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)

In English, Nadi Shodhana means ‘alternate nostril breathing.’ It is a Pranayama, which means a breathing exercise practiced in Yoga. This breathwork cleanses your left and right nadis (right and left hemispheres of the brain) to achieve balance. If you tend to fidget and your mind wanders when you only focus on the breath, this Pranayama might be good for you

In Nadi Shodhana, you use your fingers to open and close your nostrils. Doing this makes it easier for most people to focus on their breath.

The Steps:

  1. Sit comfortably seated asana (pose) with your hands resting on your lap. Close your eyes.
  2. Now close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril. Then, hold your breath, close the left nostril with the left ring finger, release the right nostril, and exhale. Inhale through the right nostril, hold your breath, release the left nostril, and cover the right nostril with your thumb, then exhale through the left nostril.
  3. This is round one. Repeat this for at least five rounds.

Dirga Pranayama (Three-part Breath)

Dirga Pranayama or the ‘Three-part Breath,’ is a perfect breathing exercise for beginners. If you have irregular breathing patterns, this will help you correct that problem. This breathing exercise relaxes the mind and body. It is great for any time of the day, goal, or as a primer for any meditation.

The Steps:

  1. Lie down or sit down in a comfortable position. If lying down, allow the hands to rest on your sides. If sitting down, let the hands relax on your lap.
  2. Inhale through your nose and fill your stomach with as much air as possible. Then bring this air towards your chest and finally towards your neck.
  3. Exhale through your nose and relax the neck, then the chest, and finally the belly.
  4. Repeat this breathing exercise 10 or more times.

Sheetkari Pranayama (Cooling Breath)

Do you want to practice Yoga Nidra meditation or want to feel refreshed after a hot day? If so, prepare your mind and body for it by practicing Sheetkari Pranayama.

Sheetkari Pranayama is called the ‘Cooling Breath‘ because it cools down the body. It’s a great breathing exercise if you wish to wind down, like in Savasana. Or when you are planning to rest, such as in Yoga Nidra. You can also use this type of breathwork when it is summer and you feel hot.

The Steps:

  1. Sit down in any position you like. You can sit comfortably on a chair, mat, or the ground with your legs crossed. Close your eyes and relax your hands on your lap.
  2. Purse your lips as if you are holding a straw between your lips. Inhale through the mouth deeply. Exhale slowly through the lips.
  3. Do this breathing exercise for as long as you like.

Kapalabhati Pranayama (Forehead-shining/Skull-shining Breath)

Kapalabhati Pranayama is called ‘Forehead shining breath‘ because it will make you feel lightheaded if you are new to it. This is an advanced breathing exercise that helps you develop mental clarity. It consists of passive inhales and slow or fast exhales. So, if you have a meeting and want to maintain a clear head or need energy, take a few minutes to do the Kapalabhati Pranayama before the start of the meeting.

The Steps:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position and close your eyes while resting with your hands on your lap.
  2. Inhale through your nose and bring your awareness to your belly.
  3. Then do a shallow and forceful exhale through your nose while simultaneously contracting your belly by pushing your belly button towards your spine. Aim to do 20 shallow exhales with a single inhale. Exhale longer on your last exhale.
  4. Do diaphragmatic breathing at least three times to relax the body. Then do Steps 2 and 3 again. This time, aim to double the number of your exhales. Do at least three rounds of Kapalabhati Pranayama, depending on your comfort level.

Yoga Nidra Pranayama (Ocean Breath)

Yoga Nidra Pranayama, or Ocean Breath, is perhaps Yoga’s most popular breathing exercise. You usually practice it in Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga. It uses the glottis, or the back of your throat, for breathing, which produces a sound similar to the sounds of the ocean. Yoga Nidra Pranayama prepares the body for other breathing exercises, meditation, or asanas. You can practice it any time of the day and wherever you are.

The Steps:

  1. Get into a comfortable position. You can do the Yoga Nidra Pranayama while sitting, lying, or standing. Close your eyes and let your arms relax on your lap or sides.
  2. Bring your awareness to the back of your throat.
  3. Take an inhale through your nose while slightly contracting your throat. Doing this will produce the sound of the ocean.
  4. Then breathe out through your nose while contracting the back of your throat.
  5. Repeat this ten or more times.

Some Common Mistakes

You will make mistakes when doing something new to you, such as an unfamiliar breathing exercise. But you can avoid some of these mistakes by learning from people who have experience practicing Pranayama. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid:

To Follow or Not to Follow the Teacher’s Cue

In a breathing exercise, the teacher will give the cue to guide the class. If you are a beginner, your teacher’s cues are beneficial for you to remember the more complex steps. However, if you are not comfortable with the teacher’s pace, be free to go at your own pace.

Practising Breathing Exercises On a Full/Empty Stomach

You will not be comfortable practicing Yoga on a full or empty stomach. This applies whether it is a meditation class, a breathing class, or a full yoga class with asanas. Therefore, make it a point to take some food at least two hours before practice. If you feel hungry before the start of a class, take a light snack with some water.

Overdoing It

Avoid “trying too hard” or “overdoing it,” especially the intermediate to advanced exercises, which include kumbhaka or breath retention. By doing so, you can injure yourself. Generally, in the practice of Yoga, which includes breathing exercises, do it with sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease).

The Bottomline

Breath is a powerful life process. It can control your mind and your body. It can also be calibrated to give you more or less energy, depending on your goal. Therefore, it’s always good to include a breathing exercise before meditation.

Do you want to experience the power of the breath? Let us guide you through breathing meditation exercises for free. Join our 30-day Meditation Challenge followed by our 200 Hrs Online TTC Course.

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Meera Watts
Meera Watts is the owner and founder of Siddhi Yoga International. She is known worldwide for her thought leadership in the wellness industry and was recognized as a Top 20 International Yoga Blogger. Her writing on holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and other international magazines. She got the Top 100 Entrepreneur of Singapore award in 2022. Meera is a yoga teacher and therapist, though now she focuses primarily on leading Siddhi Yoga International, blogging and spending time with her family in Singapore.

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