Mindfulness: Pranayama Series: Segmented Breathing

Segmented breathing comes from the Kundalini Yoga tradition, which is a yoga practice that emphasizes the energy bodies and incorporates a lot of dynamic breathing techniques. With segmented breathing, the inhalation and exhalation are broken up into several parts. Rather than one long smooth inhale followed by a long smooth exhale, the inhale will be broken into segments with short inhales separated by pauses, and the exhale may also be broken into segments with short exhales separated by pauses.

Practicing segmented breathing helps to increase mindfulness and awareness of the breath. It is also a great practice for improving control over the breath as it requires attention and awareness to break up the breath into equal parts.

There are several ratios you can use when practicing segmented breathing. Each of these ratios has different benefits. For all of these ratios, inhale and exhale through the nose, keeping the mouth closed.

4 part inhale: 1 part exhale (i.e. For each part of the inhale, fill up 25% of your capacity. On the exhale, release 100% of your breath.)

This is a great ratio to start with for those who are new to the practice of segmented breathing. It is a calming breath, as the inhale is controlled but you can let go of control during the exhale.

4 part inhale: 4 part exhale

This is a balancing breath ratio. When inhales and exhales are equal in length, we create a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Balancing breaths promote clarity and focus.

8 part inhale: 8 part exhale

This is a more advanced version of the balancing breath ratio, as it requires greater control over the breath. The equal ratio of inhales and exhales promotes clarity and focus.

8 part inhale: 4 part exhale

This breath ratio is energizing and promotes focus. Focusing more on the inhale activates the sympathetic nervous system. This branch of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for action so, using this breath ratio creates alertness and energy in the body.

4 part inhale: 8 part exhale

This is a relaxing breath ratio. Focusing more on the exhales activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest” branch of the autonomic nervous system. Using this breath ratio calms the body and can reduce stress and anxiety.