Pranayama, loosely translated, means breathing techniques; and, is one of the eight limbs of yoga that sage, Patanjali, explains in the Yoga Sutras, written circa 150 BC.
Pranayama is comprised of two root words: prana (vital energy or life force) and ayama (extension or expansion). Pranayama, therefore, means to extend the vital energy.
Pranayama provides a way to activate the life force and expand it beyond one’s normal limitations to attain a higher state of vibration.
Through a series of breath retentions, known as kumbhaka, pranayama can be described as a method of voluntary hypoventilation, which allows us to normalize our breathing by normalizing the oxygen supplied to brain cells.
There are eight distinct varieties of pranayama practices discussed in Hatha Yoga Pradipika to control one’s breathing. These eight pranayama varieties differ based on how kumbhaka is incorporated into the practice. These are not actually varieties of kumbhaka, rather they are various modes of inhalation and exhalation (pooraka and rechaka, respectively):
- Suryabhedana (Vitality Stimulating Breath)
- Ujjayi (Ocean or Victorious Breath)
- Sitali (Cooling Breath)
- Sitkari (Hissing Breath)
- Bhastrika (Bellows Breath)
- Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)
- Murccha (Swooning or Fainting Breath)
- Plavini (Floating Breath)
Future posts will explain more about each of these breathing practices and how to practice them.
Controlling the breath is fundamental to balancing overall well-being. Four additional reasons to practice pranayama are:
- Practicing pranayama, along with asana (postures), mudra (positions or gestures which represent the psyche), and bandha (locks for channeling energy), results in a potent means of restoring and maintaining physical and mental health.
- Practicing pranayama regularly, along with asana, shatkarma (cleansing practices), meditation and yoga nidra (yogic sleep), releases muscular knots which can occur anywhere in the body. For example, cervical spondylitis is tightness of the neck, which is relieved with the consistent steady practice of pranayama. Muscle knots such as these may lead to reduced mobility due to muscle stiffness. The pain or soreness experienced may linger for quite a while unless intervention – such as massage, marma point therapy, acupressure, chiropractic adjustment – is taken.
- Practicing pranayama eliminates anger and cools down a heated brain. Heated brain conditions are observed in cases of fever, headache, migraines, worry, anxiety, unexplained/irrational fear.
- Pranayama practice is also known to relieve sore throat and tonsillitis, and has the added benefit of improving the quality and tone of one’s voice.
When learning these ancient yogic practices, begin with siting in a comfortable, seated position on the floor. Close the eyes and bring the awareness inside. Observe the thoughts with non-attachment. Observe a slow, rhythmic and diaphragmatic breath. Inhale and the exhale through the nostrils.
A steady, rhythmic breathing pattern is important for activating the frontal cortex, as well as bringing awareness inside the body and disconnecting from the external sensory stimulations of the environment.
“When the breath wanders [i.e., is irregular] the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learns to control the breath.”
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Your Stress-Reducing Genie
Yogini Mimi teaches 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training courses in Bali, Indonesia, with Swadhyaya Yoga School, an Affiliate Yoga School – Rishikesh YogPeeth. 2018 dates will be announced soon. For more information contact email@example.com.
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