Doshas and balance: we talk about them a lot. So, they must be super important! Nothing can leave you out of balance quicker than having too much of one kind of energy. These doshas wax and wane with the seasons, our mood, what we eat, and with every physical, emotional, and spiritual experience we encounter. We try to find balance in our diet, asanas, routines, whatever we can do to recenter and thrive. Today we’re giving you yet another tool for your dosha-balancing toolkit: the breathing exercise.
Meditations and breathing should be standard practice, but it can be all too easy to let this practice slip out of our yoga routines. So in case you, like me, haven’t given yourself time to breathe (or if you never have), I’m here to tell you which technique balances each dosha.
P.S. If you don’t know your dominant dosha, read this.
Vata Breathing Exercise: Nadi Shodhana
Nadi what? Nadi Shodhana is another name for alternate-nostril breathing, and it’s ideal for those with dominant Vata doshas or during Vata season (fall/spring). Vata is air, ether, wind, and space. It is dry, cold, light, rough, and mobile. Alternate-nostril breathing is rhythmic and soothing, the perfect thing to ground the airy Vata. This breathing exercise releases tension and stress, clears your mind, improves serenity, and reduces stress.
How To: Alternate Nostril Breathing
First, find a comfortable place to sit and take steps to keep warm. If you are feeling chilled, use a blanket or shawl. Next, close your eyes and sit up straight and tall. Gently close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale gently through your left nostril. Once you’ve taken a deep breath, use the ring finger on your right hand to close your left nostril. Lift your thumb slightly and exhale gently through your right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, then exhale through the left. Your breaths should be gentle, smooth, and relaxing. Continue in this manner for 5 to 10 minutes. Check out my video here.
Benefits of this breathing exercise include:
- Regulates nervous system
- Improves breathing and oxygen flow
- Decreases feelings of fear and anxiety
- Lowers blood lactate levels (a chemical linked to panic attacks)
- Stronger lungs
- Clears energy channels in the body
- Boosts metabolism
Pitta Breathing Exercise: Sheetali Breath
Pitta is the dosha of fire and water. It’s also the dominant dosha during the hot summer months. It should come as no surprise that Pitta’s main qualities are hot, oily, sharp, and light. Sheetali Breath is fantastic for when you feel a rise in Pitta: most notably when you’re angry, irritated, frustrated, or during summer. This breathing exercise has the opposite qualities of Pitta dosha, so it helps bring you back into balance.
How To: Sheetali Breath
First, make sure you are comfortably seated with your back straight. Allow your hands to rest comfortably on your lap and turn your palms up. Close your eyes and curl your tongue. Breathe in through your curled tongue, then close your lips. Next, lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, then exhale through your nose. Repeat these steps with a relaxed, calming rhythm for 1 to 2 minutes. Afterward, you should feel physically and mentally refreshed, with increased coolness and clarity. Check out my video here.
Benefits of this breathing exercise include:
- Lower body temperature
- Refreshed brain
- Stress relief
- Detoxifying the nervous system
- Calmer emotions
- Lower blood pressure
- Muscle relaxation
Kapha Breathing Exercise: Skull Shining Breath
For Kapha doshas, the breathing exercise to bring balance is called Kapalabhati, or Skull Shining Breath. Kapha is heavy, sticky, oily, and cool. You find Kapha in excess during Springtime especially, but also when you feel lethargic or sluggish, unmotivated, or congested. Skull Shining Breath consists of short, powerful exhales, and gentle inhales. This breathing technique purifies, rejuvenates, and refreshes the body, mind, and spirit, almost like spring cleaning!
Note: You should practice this breathing technique on an empty stomach.
How To: Skull Shining Breath
Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Place your hands on your knees with your palms facing the sky. The key to Skull Shining Breath is to take a deep, slow breath in, then exhale quickly by contracting your lower belly. It may help you to keep a hand on your stomach so you can feel your muscles contract. Quickly release your abdominal muscles after the short burst of exhaling, and allow your breath to refill your lungs. One round of this breathing exercise is a total of 20 breaths. After completing an entire round, close your eyes and explore your body’s internal sensations. Repeat two more rounds for optimum benefits. Check out my video here.
Benefits of this breathing technique include:
- Improved circulation
- Increased oxygen supply
- Sharpened intellect
- Improved digestion
- Calmer mind
- Warmer system
- Clearer sinuses and lungs
Take a Breath
No matter what season it is, this is your gentle reminder to breathe. Life is stressful, complicated, and downright messy. We can’t always fix or change everything, but we can find a way to breathe through it. When we incorporate breathing exercises into our daily practice and routine, we bring ourselves into a better, more relaxed state to handle whatever life throws our way.