How to Breathe Like a Yoga Master

Five Methods:Learning Dirga PranayamaPracticing Bhramari PranayamaLearning Ujjayi PranayamaEngaging in Shitali PranayamaPracticing Kapalabhati pranayama

Most techniques and poses in yoga revolve around yogic breathing. Pranayama, which roughly translates to "expanding life force," is the yogic art of breathing.[1] When executed correctly, yogic breathing has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety and stress, and help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.[2] However, when yogic breathing is improperly performed, it may cause stress and discomfort to the lungs and diaphragm.[3] It's important to perform all yoga techniques carefully, and if you're ever unsure of a position or breathing pattern you should ask a qualified yoga instructor. Learning the Pranayama basics of yogic breath can help you feel better and can put you on the path to yogic expertise.

Method 1
Learning Dirga Pranayama

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    Inhale to the three abdominal targets. Dirga Pranayama is often called the three-part breath, due to its focus on breathing into and out of three separate regions in the abdomen.[4] It may sound simple, but it can be quite difficult to perfect.
    • Inhale through the nostrils in one long, continuous breath.[5]
    • Breathe into the first abdominal target, the low belly.[6]
    • With the same breath, breathe into the second target: the lower chest, at the bottom of the ribcage.[7]
    • Continuing the same inhalation, breathe into the third target, the lower throat. You should feel it just above your sternum.[8]
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    Exhale in reverse order. Once you've inhaled into each of the three target areas, you'll begin exhaling. On the exhalation, focus on the three abdominal targets, but in reverse order.
    • Exhale through the nostrils in one long, continuous breath, just like on the inhalation.[9]
    • Focus on the lower throat first, then feel the exhalation move down into the lower chest and the lower belly.[10]
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    Practice your technique. Learning how to breathe into and out of the three abdominal targets may be difficult for beginners. When starting out, it's best to isolate each individual abdominal target. You can do this by using your hands to track the movement of your breath.[11]
    • Rest one or both hands on each of the three abdominal targets. Focus your breath into and out of each target. You should feel your hand(s) move up and down on the inhalation and exhalation.[12]
    • Once you've learned how to focus your breath into each of the three individual abdominal targets with your hands, practice each target without touching your abdomen.[13]
    • When you've mastered breathing into and out of each target area without using your hands, connect each step and practice the entire process in one fluid breath.[14]

Method 2
Practicing Bhramari Pranayama

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    Inhale a deep breath. The Bhramari pranayama, often called "the bee breath," focuses on a smooth nasal inhalation and a steady, vocal exhalation through the nostrils.[15]
    • Breathe in slowly and deeply through both nostrils.[16]
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    Exhale with a throaty vocalization. As you exhale, you should train your throat to make a soft, elongated hum of the letter "e." This should produce the characteristic buzzing sound associated with "the bee breath."[17]
    • Exhale slowly through both nostrils.[18]
    • Start out with a soft, silent "eee" buzz, and gradually increase the volume as you become more comfortable with this breathing routine. Do not strain your throat. The buzzing should feel somewhat natural.[19]
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    Add variance to your technique. Once you've sufficiently practiced the bee breath, you can add some variety to your technique. This can help give you a deeper sense of calm as you perfect the Bhramari pranayama.
    • Extend your fingers, and use the thumb of your right hand to block your right nostril.[20]
    • Perform the same inhalation and exhalation as before, but push all of your breath in and out of your left nostril.[21]
    • Switch sides, using your left hand to block your left nostril. Push all of your breath in and out of your right nostril.[22]

Method 3
Learning Ujjayi Pranayama

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    Whisper an "h." The Ujjayi pranayama is often called the "victory" or "ocean-sounding breath," because the goal is to replicate the sound of crashing waves. To do this, practice contracting the vocal cords until you can produce a steady, drawn-out "h" sound.[23]
    • You should feel a slight contraction in your throat as you whisper the "h" sound. It should not be painful or uncomfortable.[24]
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    Breathe in through the mouth. Draw in a long, deep breath through your parted lips. Focus on contracting the vocal cords while you inhale, so you produce a soft "ocean sound" as you breathe in.[25]
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    Exhale through the mouth. As you exhale through your parted lips, focus on continuing to contract the vocal cords to produce the sustained "h" sound associated with Ujjayi pranayama.[26]
    • Once you've perfected the exhalation through your mouth, practice breathing out through your nostrils instead. With some experience, you should be able to produce the "h" sound while breathing out through the nose just as you did through the mouth.[27]

Method 4
Engaging in Shitali Pranayama

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    Roll your tongue. Instead of breathing in and out through your nostrils, this yogic practice involves breathing in through a "tube," made by rolling your tongue. If you cannot roll your tongue into a perfect tube, try to shape your tongue into as much of a cylinder as possible.[28]
    • Form a tube (or as much of a cylindrical shape as possible) with your tongue. Push the tip of your "tongue tube" out just past your lips.[29]
    • If you cannot roll your tongue on your own, you may need to use your hands to "shape" the tongue.
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    Inhale through the tube. Draw a slow, deep inhalation through your rolled-up tongue. Try to keep your lips tightly wrapped around your tongue to force all of the air through the "tube" you've formed with your tongue.[30]
    • As you inhale, tilt your head down and hold your chin against your chest.[31]
    • Feel the breath enter your lungs and hold the breath for approximately five seconds.[32]
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    Exhale through the nostrils. Push the breath out of your nostrils in a slow, controlled exhalation. Try to exhale as you did during the Ujjayi pranayama. Focus on your chest and contract the vocal cords as the breath leaves your body through the nose.[33]
    • Do not practice the Shitali pranayama unless you are physically warm. Some yogis believe that the Shitali pranayama cools the body, which could be dangerous if you are cold or if you practice during the winter.[34]

Method 5
Practicing Kapalabhati pranayama

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    Inhale through the nostrils. Draw in a slow, steady breath through the nose. Make sure it is an adequately deep breath, as the exhalation will require a steady supply of air.[35]
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    Practice active exhalation. As you breathe out, it should be in a rapid, "pumping" pulse of exhalation. It may be helpful for beginners to put one hand on the stomach to feel the active belly-based pumping action.[36]
    • Release short, controlled "snorts" (without emitting any sound) through the nostril. It may be helpful to imagine that you are blowing out a candle with your breath.[37]
    • Practice releasing rapid, silent "snorts" in quick succession. Beginners should aim for approximately 30 exhalations in a 30 second period.[38]
    • Keep your staccato exhalations steady and controlled. Aim for consistency before you try to increase your exhalations.[39]
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    Gradually increase your exhalations. It's best to start slow, but once you've comfortably pumped 30 exhalations in 30 seconds, you can gradually increase the exhalations. Slowly work your way up to 45 to 60 exhalations over a 30 second period. Don't push yourself too hard or too fast. It's best to begin with two to three rounds of whatever number of exhalations is comfortable before attempting to increase the exhalations.[40]


  • Each inhalation/exhalation cycle should require several seconds to complete. Use a pace that is comfortable for you, but the deeper and slower you are able to breathe, the better.
  • It can be tricky to get the hang of this at first, but it helps to imagine the breathing cycle as a circle. During each cycle, the chest and abdomen rise and fall in a smooth, uninterrupted manner.


  • Consult a qualified yoga instructor if you're unsure about any yogic breathing techniques.
  • If you begin to feel light-headed or experience other unusual phenomena, discontinue the exercise. Yogic breathing should feel relaxing yet energizing. It should never be painful or uncomfortable.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Breathing and Meditation | Yoga