Breathwork Yoga: What It Is, Benefits, Breathing Exercises & More

January 13, 2022
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Yoga is one of the most popular methods of achieving a meditative state, but many might not realize the importance breathing plays in a yoga practice. It’s so significant that it’s actually its own practice: breathwork yoga.

So what exactly does it mean to practice yoga breathing? This article will tell you everything you need to know about this practice within the following sections:

  • What is breathwork yoga?
  • The importance of breathing in yoga
  • Top 10 benefits of yoga breathing
  • Types of yoga breathing: 6 yoga breathing exercises you should try
  • Try it now: 7-minute alternate nostril guided breathwork video
  • 5 best yoga breathing apps for a guided practice

Before we cover some yoga breathing exercises, we’ll first offer a deeper explanation of what yoga breathing is.

Also, if you want to explore other methods of mindfulness, check out our guide on alternatives for meditation.

What is breathwork yoga?

A group of people standing in a circle with their arms spread out

Yoga breathing, breathwork yoga, or pranayama refers to various exercises that are practiced on their own or as part of yoga. These yoga breathing techniques are often done to practice mindfulness. Many also practice yoga breathing for other benefits, like reducing stress and anxiety or improving breathing patterns.

The importance of breathing in yoga

A woman practicing breathwork lying on a yoga mat

In traditional yoga or pranayama, the breath is viewed as one’s life force. So the importance of breathing in yoga is that by consciously making use of correct yoga breathing, you can strengthen the connection between your mind and your body. By having a combined focus on your breathing and yoga exercises, you’re allowing yourself to be fully aware of the moment and achieve a state of mindfulness.

Top 10 benefits of yoga breathing

As mentioned, there are plenty of yoga breathing benefits that can be gained with regular practice. Here are some of the top benefits of deep breathing in yoga:

  1. Relieves stress and anxiety: Practicing yoga breathing exercises for anxiety signals to your body’s stress response that it’s safe to relax and return to a normal state of functioning.

  2. Improves sleep: Following these exercises before bed helps to relax your body and mind, allowing you to enter a restful state and stay asleep.

  3. Promotes relaxation: You can achieve a state of calm throughout your body and mind by using these exercises, in the same way that practicing yoga breathing exercises for stress relief calms the body.

  4. Lowers blood pressure: Yogic breathing can help maintain an ideal level of blood pressure, especially in those who are prone to spikes when under stress.

  5. Strengthens lungs: One of the biggest benefits of diaphragmatic breathing in yoga is how it improves respiratory health by strengthening the respiratory muscles and improving the body’s airways.

  6. Improves executive functions: Improvements to your breathing using yogic breathing exercises help enhance your cognitive functions, including memory and focus.

  7. Helps manage addiction: Those working to overcome their addictions can use yogic breathing to reduce cravings and calm their thoughts.

  8. Increases energy: The improved oxygen levels and carbon dioxide tolerance within your body after practicing yogic breathing can greatly contribute to your energy levels and athletic performance.

  9. Boosts immunity: Since yogic breathing helps to correct your breathing, it also helps you  better filter air and thus improve your level of immunity.

  10. Helps manage symptoms of PTSD: Yogic breathing can be used during periods of high stress to help calm and relax the body and mind. This can help practitioners better cope with the symptoms of PTSD.

Types of yoga breathing: 6 yoga breathing exercises you should try 

If you’re wondering how to do yoga breathing exercises, it’s as easy as following the proceeding instructions. The 6 yoga breathing exercises below are a few types of yoga breathing that are easy to practice now.

1. Alternate nostril breathing

Two women practicing alternate nostril breathing outdoors

Alternate nostril breathing, also called nadi shodhana or anulom vilom (depending on which variation you practice), is a popular pranayama yoga breathing technique. It involves cyclical nostril breathing in yoga to reduce stress levels and benefit the respiratory system. This exercise is great for calming the mind and body, as well as releasing toxins built up in the body. It can also be combined to create an alternate nostril breathing yoga practice.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up straight in a comfortable position.
  2. Place your right thumb on your right nostril, closing it.
  3. Slowly inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Use your right ring finger to close your left nostril, then lift your thumb off your right nostril.
  5. Slowly exhale through your right nostril.
  6. Next, slowly inhale through your right nostril.
  7. Place your thumb back on your right nostril and lift your ring finger off your left nostril.
  8. Slowly exhale through your left nostril.
  9. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

2. Ujjayi Breath

Ujjayi Breath, also known as Victorious Breath, is a yoga breathwork meditation used to promote relaxation. This is a popular technique often used to calm anxiety and racing thoughts. This can be practiced at any time during the day, whenever needed.

How to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, with your shoulders relaxed.
  2. With your mouth closed, attempt to constrict the muscles in your throat.
  3. Inhale through your nose, allowing air to pass through your constricted throat.
  4. Keep inhaling until your chest feels full.
  5. Pause for 6 seconds.
  6. Exhale through your nose, attempting to keep your face and nose relaxed.
  7. Relax and spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
  8. Repeat these steps as many times as desired, up to 8 times per day.

3. Humming bee breath

Humming bee breath, also known as bhramari, is a yoga deep breathing exercise that makes use of humming. Like many others, this technique is great for promoting relaxation, especially in those who are anxious or need help falling asleep. It’s also effective at improving mood and helping soothe physical ailments.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up or lie down with your eyes closed.
  2. Place your index fingers inside your ears.
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  4. As you exhale, press down on your ears and hum. You can choose to keep your fingers pressed down or continuously lift them up and press them back down.
  5. Inhale deeply again.
  6. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

4. Lion’s Breath

A woman lying on a yoga mat with her mouth open wide

Lion’s Breath, also called simhasana, is a breathwork exercise that can be performed on its own or as part of the Lion’s Pose in yoga. This technique is great for improving breathing, as well as relieving stress and anxiety. It’s also great for general relaxation and enhancing athletic performance.

How to do it:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Lean forward slightly, and place your hands on your knees or the floor.
  3. Spread your fingers as wide as possible.
  4. Breathe in through your nose.
  5. Open your mouth as wide as possible, sticking out your tongue down towards your chin.
  6. Breathe out forcefully through your mouth, making a “ha” sound as you do so.
  7. Spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
  8. Repeat these steps up to 7 times.
  9. End the exercise with a few minutes of diaphragmatic breathing yoga.

5. Skull Shining Breath

Skull Shining Breath, also called Breath of Fire or kapalabhati, is a type of belly breathing yoga involving forceful breathing. The technique is primarily done for relaxation and to cleanse the respiratory system. It’s best practiced early in the morning on an empty stomach.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up and cross your legs.
  2. Inhale through your nose.
  3. Immediately after, exhale using your abdominal muscles to force the air out in a short burst.
  4. Inhale again, relaxing your stomach.
  5. Continue to inhale and exhale in this way up to 20 times.
  6. Once you’ve completed a round, close your eyes and reflect on how the different parts of your body feel.
  7. Repeat these steps up to 2 times, if desired.

6. Sitali

Sitali, also known as Cooling Breath, is a breathwork yoga exercise that helps cool the body. In addition to helping with body temperature, it’s also great for relaxation and physical health. It’s one of the easiest exercises to learn, but it can also be practiced for longer periods of time with more experience.

How to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Spend a few minutes breathing as you normally would.
  3. Stick out your tongue, curling the sides to create a tunnel.
  4. Inhale through the tunnel. Notice the cool air as it enters your mouth, throat, and torso.
  5. Relax your tongue and exhale through your nose.
  6. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

Try it now: 7-minute alternate nostril guided breathwork video

Following along with guided yoga breathing videos is another great way to practice yoga breathing exercises for beginners. If you’re ready to try, watch our 7-minute guided video on the alternate nostril breathing technique:

For more guided breathwork sessions like this, check out the Othership app and sign up for a 7-day free trial.

5 best yoga breathing apps for a guided practice

Another way to get help with starting your yogic breathing practice is by downloading a yoga breathing app. These are a few of our recommendations for the best yoga breathing apps.

1. Othership

Othership home screen

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: 7-day and 14-day free trials available; $17.99/month or $129.99/year to unlock all features.

Features: 500+ classes, inspiring soundscapes, streak & progress tracking, and a global community.

Best for: Guided yoga breathing sessions.

Othership is a breathwork app that allows users to connect their body, brain, and self. This is done through a library of over 500 guided breathwork classes that cover a variety of helpful breathwork techniques, including many different yoga breathing exercises. The sessions are taught by some of the best facilitators in the world, and the app allows users to access a global community of like-minded people.

2. Insight Timer

Insight Timer home screen

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: Free to use; $9.99/month or $59.99/year to unlock all features.

Features: Guided meditations, select by time, follow your favorite teachers, and discussion groups & community features.

Best for: Guided yoga meditations.

Insight Timer is a meditation app that is great for helping people relax and feel better. It contains thousands of guided meditations – including ones with yoga breathing – that deal with a variety of topics. It also features music and sounds to help relax and calm the mind.

3. Universal Breathing - Pranayama

Universal Breathing session

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: $4.99 (Lite version available)

Features: Guiding animations, 5 different sound settings, extensive breathing course, and custom courses.

Best for: Learning about yoga breathing.

The Universal Breathing app is another option for guided breathwork sessions that helps with mastering yoga breathing. This app uses body and dial animations to visually guide users through each pranayama exercise. It offers a variety of courses and sessions for beginners and those with more advanced experience.

4. Prana Breath

Prana Breath session

Download it Now: Android

Cost: Free to use; 3-month, 1-year, or lifetime subscriptions for the Guru version are available.

Features: Guided audio, 8 breathing patterns, custom patterns, and reminders.

Best for: Simplistic guided exercises.

Prana Breath can also help guide you through yoga breathing sessions. This app uses linear visuals to show you when and for how long to inhale, pause, and exhale. You can also set up reminders to practice, and even create your own breathing patterns.

5. Health Through Breath - Pranayama

Health Through Breath session

Download it Now: Android | iOS

Cost: $4.99 (Lite version available)

Features: Guided exercises, music cues, structured courses, and customizable settings.

Best for: Learning to use yoga breathing for everyday stressors.

A sister app to Universal Breathing, Health Through Breath can guide you through yoga breathing with a focus on reducing stress. The visual and music cues help keep you on track so you can focus on your technique. There’s also a course for improving your breathing rate, as well as options for customizing your sessions.

If you’re ready to try some yoga breathing techniques for yourself, explore the class styles offered by Othership.