What is it Pranayama?
Pranayama is the regulation of the breath through focused, controlled breathing techniques.
There is a beautiful story in the book Prana and Pranayama that explains the importance of Prana (the breath, or vital life-giving force)…
“The Upanishads tell the following story. Once all of the deities that reside in the body – air, fire, water, earth, ether, speech and mind – had an argument. Each claimed that it was superior to all others, declaring, “I sustain this perishable body.” Prana was listening to this debate, and ultimately said to them, “Do not delude yourself. It is I, having divided myself into five parts, who supports and sustains this body.” The deities did not believe him. Indignantly, Prana began to withdraw from the body. Instantly, all the other deities found themselves withdrawing too. When Prana again settled in the body, the deities found that they had assumed their respective places. Convinced of Prana’s superiority, all now paid obeisance to Prana.”
(Sarawati, Swam Niranjanananda. 2009. Prana and Pranayama. Yoga Publications Trust Munger, Binhar India.)
I recall learning various Pranayama techniques during my Yoga teacher training and remember feeling so connected to myself after every practice. I remember my teacher explaining the importance of slowing down the breath in order to increase the flow of energy in the body, life expectancy and overall health, with a description of the difference between a human breath and a dogs breath. If you think about how a dog breathes, the breath is always fast and shallow and the life expectancy of the average dog varies between 7 to 16 years (depending on the size of the dog and the breed). She explained that by slowing down the breath and controlling it, we reduce our levels of stress, therefore increasing our life expectancy, as we all know that stress is a major factor in many diseases in the body.
Now I find myself utilitsing these breathing techniques on a daily basis, not only to manage stress, but also to get to sleep, increase stamina when exercising and to bring myself back to the present moment, when I find that my mind runs away.
In the pranic body, prana flows through nadis, which are energy channels, and this energy is store in Chakras, which are energy vortices. Stay with me here…. By practicing pranayama, you start to clear these channels and shift the energy around in the body. In many individuals, these energy pathways are blocked and therefore the chakras only release partial energy. Pranayama assists the increased flow of this energy. But, don’t take my word for it…if you have ever been to a yoga class, you have left, at least once, in a state of euphoria or bliss, and this is where the practice of yoga is unique to any other form of movement.
In yoga we focus on the breath as a very important part of the practice. You may notice that every yoga class begins with a focus on the breath or some form of breathing technique in order to calm the mind and prepare the body for movement. You will also notice that the yoga teacher will cue when to inhale and exhale. The eventual goal is trying to marry the breath to the movement. I have found that this is generally the part of the class that most beginners struggle with, as they are trying to focus on learning new ways to move their bodies, as well as the names of the poses and all of the physical cues from the teacher, but also trying to synchronize their breath to these movements. There is a lot going on and it can be overwhelming at first. So if this sounds like you, don’t worry, you are not alone and it will get easier with time. For now, just focus on breathing in and out through the nose and keeping your awareness on the breath, eventually everything will fall into place.
Here are a few benefits of the practice of Pranayama:
· improves the quality of your sleep
· reduces stress
· increases mindfulness
· some technique reduce high blood pressure
· improves lung function
During the month of September, I will be sharing some videos of different pranayama techniques that you can practice in your own time, in the comfort of your own home.
Hopefully, one of these techniques will help you in an area that you feel you need to focus on and remember, just take it one breath at a time.
Love and light