I took my first yoga class while I was at university in Edinburgh. It was 2008 and I was looking for a form of exercise where I believed my whole body would benefit in a safe way. I wanted to leave feeling strong and stretched and avoid the imbalances that often come from other sports and anyway, competitive sport doesn’t come naturally to me (I am already competitive enough with myself…). My first class was challenging and I swiftly fell in love with the blissful relaxation that follows a full body workout. 

It seems rather obvious to me now but I was surprised at how much yoga made me think of my breath and how I could utilise it to my advantage. A typical class might start with a breathing exercise (or pranayama) and throughout the whole class you are cued to ‘inhale, lift your right leg…exhale, fold forward…’. This awareness of the breath helps you to focus your mind but also helps bring a sense of energy if you are in a particularly challenging pose or a sense of deep relaxation as you slow and deepen the breath. The use of breath does not need to be restricted to yoga classes. Here are three breathing exercises from yoga that you can use for deep relaxation, to lower your heart rate and to help with stress:

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This is my favourite pranayama exercise. You might feel awkward doing this breath (I had many a laugh on my yoga teacher training doing impressions of this breath) but once you get into the swing of it, you will reap the benefits. In Yogic Philosophy it is said that we breathe cool, moon and yin energy through our left nostril and hot, sun, yang energy through our right nostril. Philosophy aside, here are the instructions: 

  1. Sitting in an upright comfortable seated position with your eyes closed, place your right thumb on your right nostril, your right index finger and middle finger between your brow and your ring finger on your left nostril.
  2. Closing the right nostril with your thumb, inhale for a count of four through your left nostril.
  3. Closing both nostrils and then releasing your right nostril, exhale for a count of four through this nostril.
  4. At the bottom of your exhale, inhale through your right nostril for a count of four.
  5. Continue in this way for three to five minutes and then release your hand and sit for a few moments with your eyes closes to settle into any subtle changes in how you may be feeling.
  6. You can inhale and exhale for as many counts as is comfortable for you, perhaps even extending the breath to a count of six.

Dirga Pranayama (3 Part Belly Breath)


  1. Lying down and closing your eyes, either have you legs straight or bring the soles of your feet together. Place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly; elbows are resting on the earth.
  2. Inhale and fill the belly with the breath. As you exhale, draw your navel back towards your spine. Repeat for five deep breaths.
  3. On the next inhale, draw breath into the belly and then continue to draw air into the ribcage. As you exhale, let air go from the ribcage followed by the belly. Repeat for five deep breaths.
  4. On the next inhale, draw breath into the belly and then continue to draw air into the ribcage and finally, let the air fill the upper chest. As you exhale, let the breath for from the chest, followed by the ribcage and finally, followed by the belly. Continue for about ten breaths.
  5. Return to normal breath and allow yourself to notice any subtle differences in the body and how you feel.

Brahmari Pranayama (Bumblebee Breath)

Lovingly named because of the sound you make, this soft breath mimics the sound of humming or the bumblebee.

  1. Inhale deeply through your nose.
  2. Exhale through the mouth, keeping the lips tightly sealed, making the sound of the letter M.
  3. Continue with this breath for three to five minutes.

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