Pranayama, Our Life Force
Pranayama is our life force. When we practice pranayama, we learn to control our breath. Breathing is fundamental to the practice of yoga and is one of the Eight Limbs of classical yoga.
There are various breathing techniques that one can practice. Below are the three that I enjoy practicing during my personal practice or when I meditate. As you prepare to practice these breathing techniques, find a comfortable place where you can sit silently without distractions. I recommend sitting towards the edge of a pillow or folded blanket. This allows your pelvis to tilt forward and helps you sit up tall for an extended amount of time. I begin all of my yoga classes this way. Otherwise, you can sit up against a wall to assist you in your posture.
Sama = equal, smooth
Vritti = fluctuations, modifications
Equal part breathing – the amount of seconds should be the same for both the inhalation and exhalation.
Begin with an inhale for a count of four
Hold the inhale for a count of four
Exhale for a count of four
Hold the exhale for a count of four
Complete three rounds of equal part breathing.
You can add an additional second when you’ve become comfortable with controlling and holding the four-count breath.
Ujjayi = victorious, audible breath
Gently constrict the opening of the throat to create resistance to the passage of air.
Gently pulling the breath in on the inhale and pushing out on the exhale against the resistance creates a soothing sound like ocean waves rolling in and out.
Start by inhaling slowly, then open the mouth and exhale slowly as if you were fogging up a mirror, making a “HA” sound.
The action of Ujjayi naturally lengthens the breath. Relaxation is key.
We are adding length to the breath – slowing down the breath.
Begin at a 4 count, then 5, and then 6.
Nadi = channel, flow
Shodhana = purification
Alternate nostril breathing
Begin by making a peace sign with your right hand; place first and middle finger gently on the brow/forehead; rest your thumb on the right nostril; rest your ring and pinky fingers over the left nostril.
Close your eyes and begin by softly closing your right nostril (using your right thumb) and inhale slowly through your left nostril.
Close your left nostril (using your ring and little fingers) and release closure of your right. Exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril.
Close your right nostril and release closure of your left. Exhale through your left nostril.
Practice as long as you’d like moving in and out of the breath slowly and gently.
Once you’ve completed this practice, return to your normal breath, relax your arms and open your eyes.
To me, pranayama is crucial to a safe and meaningful yoga practice. The benefits of a regular practice include muscle relaxation, increased energy levels, decrease in stress and anxiety, and an overall feeling of peace. Be patient when you practice. You will see results almost immediately.