Breathwork vs Pranayama – how to reduce stress by breathing.

What is the difference between just simple deep breathing and Pranayama?

Breathwork is a buzz word!

Change your breath to change your state of mind and being.

If you have ever done a Google search on how to improve your mental health, calm anxiety or to reduce stress, breathwork for sure will be a recommended tool.

What about Pranayama? Is it the same thing as breathwork or is it Yoga?

In this blog, Vicki Shields, Director of Evolve Yoga Training & expert in Pranayama, covers what is simple breathing and Pranayama is so you get clarity on the difference between these powerful practices and how they can help you to reduce stress, tension & anxiety.


Pranayama – Extending your life force energy

Pranayama, is more than just the movement of air in and out of the lungs as with simple breathing. It involves the management of the internal pressure by manipulating and controlling the pelvic, abdominal and chest muscles. Pranayama means to consciously expand the breath by lengthening the exhale to double that of the inhale, eventually slowing down the whole breathing cycle to a state of stillness, resulting in a meditative state of calm.

How can we manage & retrain the breath?

Oftentimes we need to re-train the breath to reduce stress and the habitual mental patterns that cause it. This takes place in two stages; opening the breath with simple breath work, which can then progress onto Pranayama. Simple breathing exercises, massaging tense areas, and Kriyas (classic yogic cleansing exercises) can first open up the breath and address tension built up in the diaphragm, abdomen and jaw. This helps to liberate the breath and the life force energy because breathing, especially when it evolves into the practice of Pranayama, is more than just the movement of air in and out of the lungs.

It involves the management of the internal pressure by manipulating and controlling the pelvic, abdominal and chest muscles. This takes time and practice and is essential if there is to be a full benefit of extending and lengthening the exhale for the practice of Pranayama.

Your breath may be compromised throughout daily activities and even during your Yoga practice, as the toll of daily insults manifests in stressful ways across the body. Workload, traffic, parental responsibilities and not to mention the endless tasks we have on a daily basis engender stress. This often leaves the untrained breath shallow and uneven, too high rapid or stuck in the chest and therefore unhelpful in response to this stress. All of these situations will affect the function on both the brain and the body .

Simple Breathing

Simply becoming conscious of the breath is the first step in how to feel the relationship between breath and nervous system.

How often do we really listen to the inner space of our body? Your inner intelligence has an amazing feedback system, it can, if you listen, give you direct feedback of the state of the nervous system.

How we utilise the respiratory diaphragm is key to understanding how we may have developed and embodied holding patterns and restricted the breath through constant stress. This will be illuminated through the practice of Uddiyana and Nauli Kriya as well as Agni Sara, as so much tension can be stored around the navel which restricts the natural movement of the breath.

Simply observe how the breath enters through the nasal passages, how it brushes the back of the throat, and filters down to the lungs . Where does the breath make contact with the ribs? How does it flow into the back of the body , frontal ribs? Is there any restriction around the diaphragm , the lower ribs?

As we free up the space around the navel and upper abdomen the respiratory diaphragm will also free-up, then we can focus on the lateral movement of the ribs, allowing a fuller deeper breath which utilises the fullness of the upper abdomen and switch the breath from shallow to deep diaphragmatic breathing. This has immense benefits for both body and mind and is the ideal breath to be cultivated during a Yoga Asana practice. This management of the breath can then progress to simple

Pranayama practice consciously expanding the breath and lengthening the exhale to double that of the inhale and eventually slowing down the whole breathing cycle.

Three simple steps to open and free the breath

This can be done lying on your back and then progressing to sitting upright if possible.

1. Lay on your back with a block or heavy object on the navel, lifting the block with the inhale, this will help to release tension around the navel area and the diaphragm. The exhale relaxes to a free and empty feeling.

2. Place the palms on the side ribs to feel the lateral movement of the breath feel the space between the ribs expand.

3. Slide one hand into the center of your abdomen and the other hand placed on the heart center. Breathe in the exact same manner but feel it first touch your lower hand and a microsecond later touch your upper hand. By the top of the breath you should feel both hands full and rounded. There should not be any sucking in of the upper abdomen yet as the inhale continues the upper abdomen is drawn wider.

Watch the video for a guided practice by Sarah King to help you open the breath.

If you would like breath coaching or a regular practice, we offer sessions inside The Holistic Health Collective.

Vicki Shields is the mentor to Sarah King from Holistic Health Collective who has been studying Yoga to overcome mental health challenges and panic disorder.
Vicki has been studying with Paul Dallaghan since 2003, she was introduced to Yogic Master Sri OP Tiwari in 2007 and has had a dedicated daily Pranayama practice ever since, studying directly with her teachers Paul and Tiwariji on annual trips to India and Thailand. She endeavours to pass on the wisdom of the practice & philosophy of Pranayama.

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