Pranayama

  1. Exercise 1
  2. Exercise 2
  3. Exercise 3 – Breath of Fire

What is Pranayama?

First a few definitions: Prana means breath or cosmic force. Ayama means to extend or draw out.  Pranayama is the practice of breath control.

Pranayama is the fourth limb of Patenjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.  According to the Yoga Sutras,

“That asana being acquired, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled.  This is pranayama.”

There are three types of pranayama:

  1. Inhalation control (bahya vritti) – Controlling the amount of time or force of the inhalation.
  2. Exhalation control (abhyantara vritti) – Controlling the amount of time or force of the exhalation.
  3. Breath retention (stambha vritti) -Controlling the amount of time the breath is held in or out.

Pranayama is typically practiced while seated in lotus, half lotus, or cross-legged.  However, it is not advisable for the beginner to practice pranayama if he/she is uncomfortable in the asana.  If it is difficult to sit cross-legged, try placing a pillow under your sitting bones while on the floor, sitting in a chair or even lying down.

How To Practice Pranayama

Just as there are hundreds of asanas, there are hundreds of pranayama exercises.  However, for the purposes of a beginner, I’ll cover just a few exercises to start with.  Please note, practicing pranayama can be dangerous if done incorrectly.  See “words of caution” below before attempting your practice.

Exercise 1

GENERAL NOTES

This is a very relaxing breath technique.  DO NOT PRACTICE WHILE DRIVING, WALKING ETC.  This is a great technique to do before bed as it will create a heaviness in your body.

STEPS

  1. Please find a comfortable position.  This can either be lying down (if falling sleep is not an issue), sitting on a chair, or siting cross-legged/in lotus pose on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes and breath deeply for a few moments.
  3. Breath in gently and slowly.  Mentally count to five.
  4. At the end of the inhale, pause for one count.
  5. Begin to breath out slowly and in control.  Try to breath out until you count to 10.  Please note!!  If you cannot breath out until you count to ten, do not force it.  Just breath out as long as you can – just do not go beyond 10 counts.
  6. Pause for 1 count at the end of the exhale.
  7. Begin the inhalation again.  Be gentle and slow.  Inhale and count to 5.
  8. Repeat this process.  Inhale and count to 5.  Exhale and count to 10 if possible.

DURATION

Begin practicing this exercise for five minutes every day.  Over the course of a few weeks or months you can gradually build up the time to half an hour.

Exercise 2

GENERAL NOTES

The purpose of this exercise is to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  The left side of the brain is responsible for logic and reasoning, while the right side is creativity and emotion.  Yoga teaches that if one nostril is congested or restricted, the corresponding brain hemisphere will be less dominant.  For example, if the left nostril is congested or restricted, the brain will function in a more creative and emotional way.

The yogis teach that normal breathing alternates dominate nostrils every two hours.  So, throughout the day a healthy person will breath predominately through the right nostril for two hours, and then predominately through the left, etc.

For optimal brain function, both nostrils will be clear and functioning. This exercise helps balance air flow from each nostril, thus promoting optimal brain function.

STEPS

  1. Please find a comfortable position.  This can either be lying down (if falling sleep is not an issue), sitting on a chair, or siting cross-legged/in lotus pose on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes and breath deeply for a few moments.
  3. Place your right thumb finger over your right nostril to constrict air flow.  Breath in long and deep through your left nostril only.
  4. Hold the breath just long enough to release the thumb and use your right pinky finger to constrict your left nostril.  Breath out of your right nostril only.  Breath slow, long and deep.
  5. Now, keep the pinky finger pressed on the left nostril and breath out through the right nostril
  6. Hold the breath just long enough to release the pinky and use your thumb to again restrict the right nostril.  Breath in through the left nostril.
  7. Repeat breath like this for five minutes.
  8. Again, it is in through the left nostril.  Out through the right nostril.  In through the right nostril.  Out through the left nostril.  In through the left nostril. Repeat the cycle again.
  9. Use the pinky and thumb to constrict the appropriate nostril.

DURATION

Begin practicing this exercise for five minutes every day.  Over the course of a few weeks or months you can gradually build up the time to half an hour.

Exercise 3 – Breath of Fire

GENERAL NOTES

Breath of Fire is a Kundalini yoga breathing technique.  It is extremely invigorating and cleansing for the body. Yoga says breath of fire is more aerobic than aerobic exercises.  This technique is difficult to master at first, so the beginning practitioner should be patient and not over do it.

STEPS

  1. Breath of Fire can be practiced while holding any asana.  However, to begin practicing sit on the floor or a chair.
  2. To practice this breath, you will inhale and exhale quickly, strongly and evenly.  The breath is pushed out with help from your upper abdominal muscles.
  3. The breath is light, like sniffing.  It is also rhythmic.
  4. When you first begin practicing Breath of Fire, do it slowly.  Gradually build up the timing.

DURATION

Breath of fire should be practiced in short bursts to begin with – no more than a minute.  Very gradually build up the time.  Once you have mastered this breath, you can pair it with any asana to hasten the physical benefits of that asana.

Words of Caution

Pranayama is the purposeful control of the breath – either through duration, breath retention on the inhale or the exhale.  Because we are dealing with control of the breath, practicing pranayama can cause dizziness, light-headedness, hyperventilation, or even loss of consciousness.

It is extremely important to practice pranayama with caution.

If you ever feel any negative symptoms, you should stop the practice immediately and return to the normal breath.  If you already have breathing problems such as asthma, you should not practice pranayama alone.

I do not provide these words of caution to scare you or prevent you from practicing.  Pranayama is extremely beneficial when done properly, and those with breathing problems may truly benefit.  I am just advising you to use common sense and do not push yourself.  Breath control should be done gradually.

Most people naturally breath very shallow.  This is largely due to stress and tension in the body.  You may be surprised just how difficult these beginner exercises are.  Do not be upset or frustrated by this.

My own personal experience with pranayama proved frustrating at first.  I am a healthy, young woman and it was difficult for me to retain the breath for even a few counts when I first began practicing. Please rest assured, it does get easier with time.  However, pushing yourself or forcing it is not only counterproductive, it can be dangerous.

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