Pranayama changes the energy in the body. When we adopt different breath patterns and techniques we can lengthen and deepen the breath, and bring more focus to the breath and its effects on our bodies and minds. It is the fourth limb of yoga, and is intricately connected to all the other arms. I absolutely love Pranayama, and it is not exaggerating to say it has changed my life.
Why Practice Pranayama?
-Slowing and deepening the breath causes a relaxation response in our mind and our body.
-Focusing concentration on a breathing technique stops the “monkey mind” of habitual thought patterns and can prepare us for a more meditative state.
-Breath control and/or awareness during asana practice can deepen our physical and mental experience of the poses.
-Each breath is a celebration of life. To focus and notice the breath can feel luxurious, comforting, and can bring us right into the present moment when the mind wants to go to the past or the future.
-It allows us to get to know a part of ourselves we take for granted.
Fundamentals of Practicing Pranayama- Use with all techniques
1. Find supported “tripod” seat, maintain long spine, open chest, relax into pose, notice breath
2. Warm up (Dirga/ujjayi- see below) , then add in a pranayama
3. Always integrate afterwards. Sit/feel/notice with uncontrolled breath. What was effect?
Dirga – 3 part breath
-full inhale belly, ribs, top of lungs expand out, then exhale slowly and fully
-Use to warm up, activate, bring awareness of breath
Ujjayi – Ocean breath
-slight constriction at back of throat, feels like fogging up a mirror, but with mouth closed, air still flows freely
-Use to warm up, activate, bring awareness of breath, as we hear it
-pratyahara (inward focus)
Nadi Shodhana – Alternate nostril breath
-meant to bring relaxation and balance to the body and mind
Method -Thumb on right nostril gently, Inhale fully through left nostril
-Ring finger covers left nostril, thumb releases from right, exhale right, inhale right
-Thumb covers right, ring finger releases left, exhale left, inhale left
-Switch sides- always before the exhale
-Continue for a few rounds, slowing down breath. Finish with exhale on left side.
-return to regular breathing, integrate
-add a breath retention after each inhale.
Breath patterns and ratios
1. 1:2 Ratio breath – the exhale is twice as long as inhale (e.g. inhale 3, exhale 6)
2. 1:1:2 ratio breath – inhale 3, retain 3, exhale 6 (or any other count with this ratio)
3. (1:1:1:1) square breath
- equal length inhale, retention, exhale, pause.
- visualize moving around the 4 equal sides of a square
Putting it all together! The 8 Limbs of Yoga
- YAMAS – moral actions.
- NIYAMAS – personal observances.
- ASANA – physical postures.
- PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques.
- PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal/inward focus.
- DHARANA – Focused concentration.
- DHYANA – Meditative absorption.
- SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment.
Awareness of the breath and control of the breath can change our focus and energy, both physically and mentally. Our mind, breath, and body are all connected. All we need to do is notice.
Leslie, February 2019