“When the breath wanders 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 learn to control the breath.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
“Prana” is the cosmic intelligent life force behind the creation of everything in the universe, including each and every one of us. We feel alive and full of energy when the prana is flowing freely within our body; conversely, we feel lethargic and unwell if our prana is blocked.
Pranayama is a branch of yoga that offers various techniques for controlling our prana. We usually associate pranayama with yogic breathing because air is a very good source of prana, and also because it is relatively easy to gain control over our prana by controlling our breath. A few minutes of regular pranayama practice can bring about several benefits:
- Strengthens our lungs and respiratory system in general.
- Calms down the mind and the nervous system, helping us to feel more peaceful.
- Detoxification, resulting in cleaner, oxygen rich blood nourishing every cell in the body.
- Enhances digestion, absorption and elimination, ensuring that our body is able to efficiently process the food that we eat.
- Improves blood circulation and heart function.
- Increases brain power.
- Lifts our mood 🙂
As with all other yoga practices, please make sure that you stay within your realms of comfort. Do not force any aspect of your practice and gently come out and stop the practice if you begin to feel any signs of discomfort, especially if you feel light headed or dizzy.
If you are pregnant, or have any concerns about your health, then you need to take extra care not to put any pressure onto the abdominal area, chest or heart areas. It is best to learn under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. Also please speak to your healthcare professionals and get their approval.
Choose a quiet place where you will not be disturbed: ensure that nobody interrupts you and that you have put your mobile phone on silent. Ideally you want to practice pranayama outdoors, where the air is fresh. However, if the weather does not permit this, then choose a well ventilated room. As with meditation, it is good to practice pranayama in the same spot. This helps to establish your pranayama practice as one of your regular lifestyle habits: something that you do as part of your daily routine just as you would brush your teeth, etc.
When, How Often and How Long
One of the best times to practice pranayama and meditation is early in the morning, straight after a shower. If this does not work for you, then choose another period during your day. As with asana and meditation, pranayama is best done on an empty stomach, i.e., before a meal. If you have eaten, then leave a gap of at least 3 hours before you do pranayama.
Aim for regularity: 5 minutes of pranayama every day is much better than doing nothing for a few days and then sitting down for 30 minutes. Think of it like watering a plant: a little bit of water every day is better than starving the plant, followed by drowning it in water!
You can practice pranayama by itself, or in combination with other yoga practices, like asana and meditation. Many pranayama techniques help to focus the mind and calm it down, so it is a good idea to follow pranayama with meditation.
As with meditation, sit in a posture that allows you to be you relaxed and alert. Ensure that your spine is long and erect, chest and abdomen are not restricted in any way, chin is parallel to the ground, eyes are steady and your weight is evenly balanced. Some pranayama practices, such as the Alternate Nostril Breath, will require you to use your hand(s). Where there is no specific hand position mentioned, then relax the arms, turn your palms upwards rest them on your legs.
Using a cushion or some other suitable support if you are sitting in one of the cross-legged positions on the floor usually helps to relax the knees.
If you are sitting on a chair, make sure that your feet are comfortably flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Try to move away from the back of the chair to minimize any sensations coming from contact your back has with the chair behind you.
Combining Pranayama Techniques
Some pranayama techniques (like Kapalbhati) are energising, while most of them are calming. It is always a good idea to end a pranayama session with a calming technique; bear this in mind if you do practice more than one pranayama technique in a session.
Links to Pranayama Techniques
N.B. – The pranayama section of this website is still under construction and more techniques will be added over the next few days. Watch this space. . .