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As chilly winter nights cool the body, you may be looking for a way to warm up that doesn’t include turning up the heat. Heaters and layers can be drying and cumbersome. Thankfully, ancient pranayama techniques can help create and maintain warmth from within. Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga, is a collection of breath exercises. Prana is that life force energy within each of you and Yama is restraint—together Pranayama translates to life force control or control of the breath.
Breathing is something you do all day long and you don’t usually have to think about. But paying attention to your breath cycles can be a powerful practice in focus and can immensely relieve stress and calm the nervous system. The following practices can be combined with meditation and yoga asana or on their own to build some heat.
Note of caution: Some of these practices may lead to slight lightheadedness, so always make sure you’re in a comfortable, safe place, preferably seated on a couch or cushion.
This breath practice involves breathing in, breathing out, and retaining the breath—all for the same amounts of time. It can be helpful to visualize a square or box shape to remember to breathe in equal increments. This is a calming breath and is sometimes used in therapeutic settings.
This is the breath practice commonly used in hatha and vinyasa yoga. It is intended to warm the body from the inside out and keep the mind focused on the present moment. This style of breathing is a helpful tool because you can both hear it and feel it. This is a simultaneously energizing and grounding breath. Ujjayi means victorious; each inhale and exhale is a celebration of life. It is also sometimes called the “oceanic breath” because, if you listen closely, each cycle sounds like the waves coming in and out at the shore.
If this is a newer practice for you, try the first several rounds with your mouth open. When you exhale it will be like you’re fogging up a window or making a “Darth Vader” sound.
This is the breath technique pioneered by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof intended to optimize health and athletic performance. Paying attention to the breath is the intention here so it doesn’t matter if your breath is drawn in and out through your nose or mouth, or what your exact body position is.
This is a go-to practice for warming up quickly. Often called the “skull-shining breath,” this is a beneficial breath for when you want to feel warm, energized, and light. Kapalabhati breath may be a good technique if you’re feeling a general wintertime sluggishness or need warming up first thing in the morning.
This breath is practiced standing and will stimulate circulation of blood flow to the limbs. This helps with cold hands and feet in particular! Twisting breath may be a good technique to perform before hitting the slopes, heading out for an early morning run, or going for a winter surf session.
May these practices bring you a sense of calm and well-being as well as revitalized energy. Enjoy the many benefits of paying attention to your breath, including feeling toastier!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Find support for restful sleep with Pranayama for Sleep, a four-part series with Dr. Amit Anand, available now in the Chopra App.