Breathing is a crucial element in Yoga whether one is doing Yoga poses (asanas) or just meditating. There are wide variations in breathing styles, rhythms, and structures. These variations all come into one basic purpose-to generate greater connection to energy flow, to manipulate the presence and function of prana (life-force energy), and to enable a stronger foundation of internal balance (mind, body, and spirit).
The variations of breathing patterns and styles can often be daunting and overwhelming to new participants to Yoga. However, often the more simple of breathing forms can provide the greatest rewards and benefits. As one of the simplest forms of breathing, basic nostril breathing yields a wealth of benefits.
By breathing through the nostrils, the inhaled air becomes moistened by the nasal passages. The nasal passages have light coatings of moisture and mucous that is picked up by the passing air. This moistened air is then better received by the tissues of the bronchial passages and lungs.
When we inhale through the nostrils, the air has more passages to pass through than by inhaling through the mouth. This extra time flowing through airway passages warms the air. Again, this nasal flow prepares the air better for the lungs.
The nose contains a lining of hairs. These hairs assist in removing air borne particles and other foreign matter that may be undesirable for the lungs. This filtering acts as a secondary support system to the cilia (micro hair-like projections) in the bronchial passages that gently propel mucous and air particles out of the airways.
When we exhale out of the nose, we retain the warmth of the breath. Inhaled air is greatly warmed in the lungs. During our Yoga practice, we want to conserve this heat energy so it can be transferred into the muscles and tissues. When we exhale through the nose, the heat in the air is transferred to the walls of the nasal passages rather than being lost. This heat then can move into the blood vessels and circulate back into the body.
Breathing through the nose can aid in developing a slower, more focused breath. By elongating the breath, we can establish a more profound inner gaze and meditative state whether we are doing Yoga postures, lying in relaxation (savasana), or enjoying time in meditation.
By starting with basic nostril breathing, we can build a powerful foundation to our practice. Through this simple breathing, we understand the benefits of breathing and develop an appreciation for more advanced breathing practices (pranayama). At the beginning of your practices, avoid rushing into Yoga flows. Embrace the time to establish your breath first. Feel the texture of the breath moving through the nose and passages. Experience the sense of connection, presence, and focus that nostril breathing provides.