Breathing Patterns


Thank you for this wonderful Platform. My question has to do with breathing. During the course of day to day activities I find it useful to have a slightly longer exhale than inhale in addition to a slight pause after exhale (with no retention-more of a slow down at the top of inhalation) One of the articles on this site mentions keeping them even. Some classes have recommended an even uaii breath with no pauses. sometimes Ill use a modified version of this. Your thoughts? Thanks

—Drew, United States


Drew, your questions appear to revolve around “day to day activities” and not meditation. The sources you quote are usually describing breath patterns for meditation purposes. But let’s explore this:

There’s a saying we quote often. It comes evidently from the Audubon folks: “If the bird and the book disagree, believe the bird.”

If during daily activities, you find that it is helpful for you (to what: be calm; focused?) to have “a slightly longer exhale…..” then why not stick with that for now? Here are a few points to consider:

1. Yogis say that our breathing patterns change according to concentration, stress, excitement, rest, and sleep. Also, more or less strongly in one nostril or the other. And even as to what section of the nasal passages it is strong or weak. Generally, when we are busy in activity we are not aware of our breath or find it difficult to give it much attention because our attention is focused on what we are doing. Taking a breath-break to change a pattern that is NOT consonant with your intention is a good way to regulate the breath.

2. I’ve never seen a comprehensive list of all the pranayams and their variations. In short, there are MANY variations on breathing patterns, techniques, and pranayams (all words for the same thing). Therefore, there is no ONE pattern that “fits all” circumstances.

3. The even-count pattern (equal counts of inhalation, hold, exhalation) is standard issue and helps us to even-out the two basic cycles. True and deep meditation takes place when the breath has stopped or, more practically for most of us, is quiet. Inhalation is our body’s need for oxygen; exhalation, to expel carbon dioxide. When the two are equal, the effort by the body, nervous system, metabolism etc is minimized and we can concentrate deeply in meditation.

4. But this pattern isn’t necessarily going to be useful for most daily activities during which, with constant movement, we may need to inhale and exhale more rapidly. But whether the one or the other cycle is slightly longer (during activity) will depend on several factors related to your body’s needs both in that moment and in general. Factors from one’s weight to diet to stress level, blood pressure and on and on can affect this.

So really what I am saying is that it is ok, and indeed a good thing, to experiment with breathing patterns. It is more practical to do this for meditation than in the midst of one’s daily duties, but either way, you may find it helpful.

The ujjayi breath (a soft, barely audible sound made by the constricted throat during inhalation and exhalation) can be very soothing and calming. Holding the breath “out” after exhalation can be what I call a “detox” breath and can bring the heart rate down. Oddly enough, you can also calm the heart with a gently-held breath in.

Never strain, especially while holding the breath (whether “out” or “in”). More aggressive techniques like bhastrika pranayam or kapalabhati are wonderful if managed and practiced both correctly and sensitively.

One of the most popular are the nadi shodanam (and anulum vilom) and its many, many variations, only a few of which are taught in the text, Art and Science of Raja Yoga by Swami Kriyananda. One of my favorites is Surya Bedha Pranayam: chin lock (Jalahandra bandha) in alternative breathing in what I call reverse mode (right-left, rather than left right nostril).

So, feel free to experiment but do access the information and instruction given to us in the long and time-tested art and science of raja yoga. After a time of experimentation, distill what you’ve learned into something simple you can practice and enjoy. Enjoyment is key. One cannot huff and puff one’s way to enlightenment like some “Big Bad Wolf!” :-)

Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA