Pranayama is a yogic practice that revolves around different breathing exercise. According to Yoga Journal: “Prana means life force or breath sustaining the body; Ayama translates as “to extend or draw out.” Together two mean breath extension or control.” There are many different forms of pranayama, and each has its own place and purpose.
Types of Pranayama
There are many different ways to practice pranayama. All help to relieve stress; some help to energize or calm the body. Studies suggest that regular practice of pranayama can actually help to relieve some of the symptoms of asthma, depression, and anxiety.
Some of the different pranayama include:
- alternate nostril breathing (for energy and calm; improves your sense of well-being)
- breath of fire (strengthens the nervous system; creates calm)
- cannon breath (energizing, focusing, calming)
- sitali breath (cooling, relaxing)
- vatskar breath (sipping the air for energy and calm)
Pranayama should be a part of every yoga practice and is considered to be a “foundational” aspect of yoga. While it’s isn’t “exercise” per se, it’s an important component and shouldn’t be neglected.
For all the time we spend stretching every other part of the body in yoga, it’s remarkably rare to spend much time on the face. Lion’s Breath relieves tension and stress by stretching your entire face, including the jaw and tongue. Though there is an asana that goes with this breath as described by Iyengar in Light on Yoga, it really can be done in almost any pose. In addition, it can be done in a seated, cross-legged position or lying down.
Lion’s breath will feel silly; it will introduce some ease and remind you not to take yoga too seriously. If you are getting overheated, try this breath to blow off some steam. It makes you look crazy, which could be part of the reason why it feels so good. It is often practiced first thing in the morning to warm you up and increase your energy.
How to Practice Lion’s Breath (Simhasana Pranayama)
- To practice this breath when you are at rest, come to kneel with your buttocks resting on your feet. Iyengar instructs you to criss-cross your ankles under your seat. Alternatively, use this breath while in a pose that you can hold for a period of time.
- Place your hands on your knees. Straighten your arms and extend your fingers.
- Inhale through your nose.
- Exhale strongly through the mouth, making a “ha” sound. As you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick your tongue as far out as possible towards your chin.
- Try bringing your drishti (internal focus) towards your third eye (center of your forehead) or the tip of your nose as you exhale.
- Inhale, returning to a neutral face.
- Repeat 4-6 times. If your ankles are crossed, switch the feet so the opposite one is on top halfway through your repetitions.