The word pranayama is used quite a lot, but often not given the explanation or gravity it deserves. Pranayama is the practice of controlling your life force, which is most easily understood as the breath. It is a subtle practice, falling somewhere between physical practice and mental. It is easy to confuse this with just breathing, standing breathing exercises, or the act of focusing on the breath, however the practices of pranayama are very specific and need specific technique. Pranayama includes practices such as Kapalbhati, Alternate Nostril Breathing and Even Counted Breathing. These are not done standing or in challenging physical postures. They must be done while the body is seated and relaxed. Pranayama is worth incorporating into your practice and study for many reasons. Here are a few:
4) Moves us beyond the postures - When we begin a yoga practice, we start by manipulating the body and practicing postures known as asanas. This is extremely challenging and rewarding as we build strength, control, health and balance. At a certain point however, we start running the risk of associating too strongly with the look and feel of our body. Our ego starts to associate our self-worth with the execution of our postures. For this reason it's important we start incorporating breath practices as they take us beyond associating purely with the physical body.
3) Balances the nervous system - You may have noticed that as you go through your day, one nostril may be somewhat plugged at any given time. This is because your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are stimulated through the use of your right and left nostril! Breathing through your nose can help regulate your body temperature, stress level, digestion and many other functions. When we consciously manipulate this through Alternate Nostril Breathing, we can actually bring a sense of balance to our nervous system. Amazing right?!
2) Moves us closer to meditation - Many of us are keen to work on meditation. It is an increasingly popular practice for which science continues to confirm as being beneficial to our well being. While other traditions of practice believe meditation to be a beginning practice, the yogis explain that the mind cannot be controlled without first mastering the control of the body and then mastering the control of the breath. For many of us who practice asana and want to meditate, we should look to pranayama first... the missing link!
1) Uses the two systems of breathing - There are two ways in which the body breathes: abdomen and chest. Many of us heavily favor one of the systems over the other. While this is usually not a conscious decision, it can affect our digestion, posture, sleep, mood and stress level. Developing pranayama practices help us understand the systems of breathing and give us a chance to develop whatever system we haven't been using.
There are many physical and mental benefits to practicing pranayama. It will have a calming effect on us while taking our practice to the next level. Let's do it!
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are scholars as well as practitioners of yogic postures, breath control and meditation. They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga.
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