5 (Easy) Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners

Just starting with pranayama? In this post, we discuss five simple yoga breathing exercises every beginner can add to their pranayama routine.


Young diverse group of people doing yoga breathing exercises

We know today, through the conclusions of modern science, that breathing can influence the autonomic nervous system. It has the power to lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, among other things.


In yoga, breathing is viewed as an anatomical and energetic event. Classical texts refer to pranayama as nothing short of a panacea. Yet for a variety of reasons, it continues to play second fiddle to postural yoga and meditation.

There is little literature - if any - to deepen what we know beyond humdrum bullet points for seven or eight traditional pranayama.

Well, no more. Prana Sutra aspires to be that missing link - a comprehensive resource for yoga breathing exercises for every level of practice. To that end, we present a series of posts that discuss ways in which you can supplement your spiritual journey.


Let us kick start that journey with five lesser known practices that you can add to your pranayama routine.


1. Belly Breathing in Supported Corpse Pose - Savasana

Level: Beginner | Purpose: Strenthen diaphragm muscles | Duration: 10 to 30 minutes

Woman in Corpse Pose doing yoga breathing exercises

Diaphragmatic or belly breathing is a threshold every beginner must cross before they learn advanced yoga breathing exercises and pranayama. It’s the most rudimentary practice of pranayama that develops critical muscles in the abdomen. It improves lung capacity and elasticity, enabling you to take in the optimal amount of oxygen.


The Corpse Pose, on the other hand, needs no introduction. It’s one of the most commonplace poses in Yogasana. For that reason, we will not go into a detailed step-by-step description.


How to do it?

Lie down in the Corpse Pose with a firm yoga bolster under your knees. Close your eyes, place one hand on your diaphragm (belly), and the other on the upper chest. Observe the movement in your hands caused by breathing.


It’s time to take charge of your breathing after a few minutes of observing yourself. Inhale and exhale in a way that only the hand on your belly moves up and down. The hand on your chest should remain absolutely still.


The objective of this exercise is not to relax in Savasana, as one typically would. Direct your attention to your breathing, following it while you remain absolutely still. With regular practice, you will learn to breathe correctly and strengthen your diaphragm muscles.


What does it do?

When you couple the Corpse Pose with diaphragmatic breathing, it reduces stress, blood pressure and gives you a feeling of calm. It’s one of the simplest ways to observe, correct, and strengthen your breathing.


In yoga, diaphragmatic breathing is held in high regard because it removes blockages that restrict the flow of prana. It induces a state of calmness and self-awareness. We insist on starting with at least 3 to 5 minutes of breath awareness. You can do it for as long as you like.

Tip: This technique is super helpful if you are of those yogis who practice pranayama shortly after postural yoga. Belly breathing helps you tune out from the physical act and prepares you to venture inward.

2. Nasal Laterality with Padadirasana – Balancing Breath Pose

Level: Easy | Objective: Unblock nostril(s) or change nasal laterality | Duration: 1 to 3 minutes

Illustration of a man doing Padadirasana
Padadirasana

Padadirasana has long been used as a way to switch nasal laterality or unblock nostrils. Yet, it's one of those Hatha yoga techniques lost in the folds of time. It’s mentioned - most prominently – in Satyananda Saraswati’s book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha (APMB). Considering that it only takes a few minutes, why not try it before your next pranayama session?


How to do it?

Padadirasana is a Vajrasana variation wherein you sit/kneel in the Thunderbolt pose and place the arms in the opposite armpit – the left arm in the right armpit and the right arm in the left armpit. It is not a yoga asana per se. It is a yogic technique used for a specific purpose.


Also see: Soothe and Purify with Chandra Bhedana Pranayama


What does it do?

Generally, the inhalation-exhalation either flows from the left or right nostril in any given point of time. Right nostril breathing (Surya Nadi) is associated with the sympathetic nervous system and left-nostril breathing influences the parasympathetic nervous system.


You can use Padadirasana to open up partially or fully blocked nostrils. The illustration shows both hands being used but you can do it with one hand as well. The armpit corresponds to the diagonally opposite nostril – the left armpit with the right nostril and vice versa.

Tip: If you use it for one nostril, it will energize the nadi and biological functions associated with it. If you use it for both nostrils, it will balances the autonomic nervous system.

3. Quiescence with Ananda Madirasana – Intoxicating Bliss Pose

Level: Intermediate | Goal: Unblock nostril(s) or balance ANS | Duration: 3 to 5 minutes


Ananda Madirasana is a classical meditation asana wherein a yogi’s primary focus is on energizing the Third-Eye (Anja) Chakra. Being a simple variation of Vajrasana, it carries the same benefits but is relatively easier on the legs.


Ananda Madirasana Steps:

Young Woman doing Ananda Madirasana meditation
Ananda Madirasana

The awareness is centered around the breath and the eyebrow center (Ajna Chakra), which is why it is an excellent addition to your routine.

  1. Sit in Vajrasana with the head, neck, and spine erect. Keep both the knees as close as possible, and the big toes will point inward –towards each other.

  2. Tuck your hands between the buttocks and ankles. The palm should be placed on the ankle. Keep the body steady by positioning your buttocks between the ankles.

  3. Relax the jaw and facial muscles and close your eyes. Breathe slow, deep, and evenly. Direct your awareness to the Ajna Chakra – the center of your eyebrows.

What does it do?

Adding a few minutes of Ananda Madirasana into your preparatory routine can help you calm the nerves and link the breath to the mind. We recommend Ananda Madirasana for 3 to 5 minutes as you do not need to hold this as long as a restorative pose.

Tip: While practicing Ananda Madirasana, one may chant 'Aum' or any beej mantra associated with the chakras for additional benefits.

4. A Good Stretch with Gomukhasana - Cow Face Pose

Level: Intermediate | Purpose: Stretch the chest, improve oxygen intake | Duration: 30s to 2 min


Gomukhasana – the Cow Face Pose – is a classic yoga pose that you ought to be familiar with. This seated yogasana stretches the hips, upper body, and abdominal muscles. It reduces blood pressure, elongates the spine, and opens up the lungs.


How to do it?

  1. Sit on your yoga mat in the Staff Pose (Dandasana) with your legs stretched out.

  2. Bend the left leg at the knee and tuck it under your buttock. Place the right leg over the thigh, keeping the knees as close to each other as possible.

  3. With a deep inhale, raise your left arm and connect it to your right arm behind your back. One elbow will point to the sky and the other will point to the ground.

  4. Interlock the fingers and hold for as long as you can. If you cannot interlock the hands, then go as far as you feel comfortable. Release hands on the exhale and repeat with the other arm/leg on top.



What does it do?

Among many benefits, Gomukhasana stretches/strengthens the hip joint, and opens up the spine. These qualities are desirable for a yogi who wants to stay seated in a meditative posture for an extended period.


That said, don’t tire yourself out by doing the Cow Face Pose too many times or for too long. It's a way to prepare your body for yoga breathing exercises, not the task itself. Just a round or two to get a good stretch ought to be enough. Advanced practitioners may couple Gomukhasana with Ujjayi breathing for additional benefits.

Tip: Gomukhasana is an fairly difficult pose. Approach it cautiously after fully understanding the contraindications. If it is beyond your reach, try Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Fish Pose) instead.

5. Improve the flow of Prana with Brahma Mudra

Level: Easy | Objective: Improve the flow of prana | Duration: 10 to 30 minutes


Brahma Mudra (also known as Purna Mudra) is one of the most frequently used hand gestures (hasta mudra) for yoga breathing exercises. Yogis position both hands forming the Brahma Mudra below the navel (by the Manipura Chakra). They leave it loose while inhaling and apply pressure against the belly for a deep and gratifying exhalation.


How to do it?

Woman doing yoga breathing exercises in Hero pose with Brahma Mudra

Sit in any meditative asana appropriate for yoga breathing. Virasana or Vajrasana would be ideal for a short session. Make a fist with the thumb tucked inside the fingers. Bring the hands opposite to each other and press them against each other (gently).


Place the hands in a way that the inward arc and little fingers touch the stomach, an inch below the navel. Alternatively, you can place your hands on the pubic bone if you use the mudra for an extended period.


What does it do?

Brahma Mudra is one of the Yoga-Ayurveda hand mudras categorized as a healing modality. It is used to remove stiffness in the upper body, strengthen the neck/shoulders, and optimize the mind-body connection.


Practicing the Brahma Mudra regularly improves the flow of prana in the body. We are not recommending it as a hasta mudra, but as an aid for yoga breathing exercises. Practicing it for 10 to 20 minutes a day can energize the breath, improves focus and prepare a yogi for meditation.

Tip: Brahma mudra is a thing in itself. There are lots of yoga kriyas centered around this hand gesture. This basic version used as a preparatory practice for pranayama.

Parting Thoughts

Some of these yoga breathing exercises have a specific purpose. The others can be a helpful tool to regain your ability to breathe healthily. Try them and let us know if they were helpful. We will continue share interesting ways to engage with the prana-sakti within you and beyond.


Also Read: The Three Best Books To Learn Pranayama