The first time I came across Pranayama I remember thinking “what is it…. prany what?” My initial reaction was one of confusion. Put simply, pranayama is a breathing exercise. But it is actually far more complex than that.
I started to embrace it when I went to India on a 300 hour Ashtanga teacher training course. I had to go through every single technique stage by stage daily at 6am for a whole hour. And here I really started to understand the whole concept of breathing and why it was so important. I also started to enjoy it. I made my practice a focus and connected movement and breath together.
Upendra, my Indian Pranayama teacher, explained that the breath of yoga comes before the asana practice. The breath is a formal practice of controlling the breathing – it’s the source of prana the vital life of breath, which cleanses the physical and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and life energy.
It is aimed at introducing extra oxygen into the lungs and this influences the flow of the prana in the nadis – (energy channels) of the pranamaya kosha – (energy body).
We use four aspects of breathing:
Internal breath retention
External breath retention
My journey to understanding the benefits of using your breathing effectively in yoga has helped my body became healthier, removing blockages from the mind and the body.
It has helped me make my breathing rate slower, resulting in a stronger heart, which should contribute to a longer life.
With so many daily stresses – tensions and habits – we generally forget to breathe. Panic then intervenes and causes us to speed up the breathing or become breathless.
Shallow breathing also causes us to develop many restricting breathing patterns.
But once we start to work with the breath through pranayama we also work on letting the life energy flow through the body.
Effects and benefits
Some techniques can be really energising, creating fire in the belly. Others can be relaxing, healing, balancing or calming. Some techniques charge the whole body, strengthening the respiratory organs.
What I love about pranayama is that it can be utilised at any time. I often have some fun with my children on long car journeys showing them how to regulate and calm their breathing.
I think helping the next generation to combat stress is vital. They face daily pressures just as adults do and showing little yogis how to do the lions breath helps them to relax.
See the section on breathing techniques for more on how to roar like a lion!