Yoga

Pranayama for Mental Stillness

Profile of woman with hands in anjali mudra in field outdoors
Profile of woman with hands in anjali mudra in field outdoors

It is the nature of the human mind to wander. We naturally create narratives, fantasies and accumulate mental chatter as we move throughout our days. Certain factors can exacerbate mental chatter; stress, caffeine, long work days, and anxiety can all make it seem near impossible for the mind to slow down. We can become lost in the landscape of the mind and forget to return to the present moment. The present moment is our seat of power and allows us to access our innate wisdom and intuition.

It is essential to implement practices that can ease the mind's noise and return to our bodies. Pranayama is a powerful way to quiet the mind and soothe stress and anxiety. Try these soothing pranayama techniques when it feels like your mind won’t stop running.

Sheetali Breath

Sheetali is a type of pranayama that is cooling in nature. It comes from the Sanskrit root sheet, meaning “cold” or “frigid.” Sheetal translates as ‘that which is calm, passionless, and soothing.’ Practicing sheetali helps cool and calm an overactive mind, bringing your mental state back to a place of balance and peace.

Begin in a comfortable seat. To practice sheetali breath, stick your tongue out and roll the outside edges in toward the center to create a tube or straw-like effect with your tongue. Inhale slowly through the tongue and hold for a few moments at the top of the inhale. Exhale slowly out of the nostrils. Repeat for at least 21 rounds, or until your breath practice feels complete, then sit in meditation for a few moments observing how you feel.

If you can’t roll your tongue, place your teeth lightly together and inhale through the space between your teeth. The rest of the practice will remain the same.

Nadi Shodhana

Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is a popular form of pranayama that balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain, helping balance the masculine and feminine energies in the body. It is a deeply purifying and balancing form of pranayama that promotes relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety.

To practice Nadi Shodhana, begin in a comfortable seat, with your back upright and shoulders relaxed. Relax your left palm and tuck your right hand's index and middle finger into the palm. Inhale through both nostrils, then close off your right nostril with your thumb and exhale out of your left. Inhale through your left nostril, then plug your left nostril with your ring and pinky finger to exhale out of the right. Inhale through the right nostril, and continue the process.

Repeat this breath for 21-48 rounds, breathing slowly with control. Take a few moments to sit in meditation after and allow the practice to sink in.

Ujjayi Breath

If you have practiced yoga, chances are you’re familiar with Ujjayi breathing. This oceanic breath is deeply calming in nature and promotes a relaxed and meditative state. It is effective in and outside of your asana practice to focus on the present moment.

Find a comfortable position and begin to breathe through the nose. Direct the breath into your diaphragm, expanding on your inhale and allowing it to contract on your exhale. On your next exhale, constrict the throat slightly so that your exhale creates a soft, oceanic sound coming from the back of the throat. Inhale slowly, and exhale with Ujjayi breath. Continue this slow and intentional breath pattern as you meditate on your inhales and exhales for up to five minutes.

Crocodile Pose with Belly Breaths

Most of us breathe shallowly and from our chests without even realizing it. This kind of breath is not conducive to calming the mind and can exacerbate tension in our system. Breathing from our diaphragm communicates to our bodies that we are safe, promotes deep relaxation, and even activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Lying in crocodile pose to practice belly breathing helps us refine the breath and achieve a deep state of calm.

Come to lie down on your belly. Create a pillow with your palms to either rest your forehead on. Allow your toes to face out and heels to fall in. You can place a block on the lower-middle back if you have one. Begin to take slow, deep breaths into the lower belly. Feel your stomach expand and press into the ground as you feel the block rise and fall with the breath.

Continue to breathe from the diaphragm, letting your body heavy with every exhale. As you breathe, you can add a count to your breath, creating equal length inhales and exhales at a count that feels good for you. Continue this pattern for 5-10 minutes, allowing yourself time to transition out and back into your day when you finish.

Our breath is a deeply powerful way to gain control of our mental landscape. When you find your mind is running or you are experiencing stress and anxiety, carve out a few moments of your day to return to the breath and practice one of these pranayama techniques for mental stillness.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only 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 programs.


Step into the power of the present moment with Meditations for a Healthy Mind, a three-part series with Roger Gabriel, available now in the Chopra App.