Pranayama

WHAT IS PRANAYAMA?


Pranayama is an in-depth science for expanding and channeling the life force, prana. "Pranayama" comes from two Sanskrit words: "prana", meaning the fundamental life force, and "yama" meaning to control. Pranayama is, therefore channeling or controlling the life force. "Pranayama" can also be seen as the combination of "pran", the life force, with "ayama", meaning expansion. In this sense pranayama expands the life force though all levels of our being, physical, psychological and spiritual.


The key to understanding prana is the breath. When the mind is clear and balanced, the breath is even and rhythmic. When the mind is nervous and tense, the breath is strained and erratic. One who has strong lungs and great breathing capacity usually has abundant energy.

Pranayama is a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious and serves to integrate body, mind, and spirit. Unlike other muscles which can supposedly either be controlled (the muscles of the arms) or not (the internal organs), the diaphragm is both a voluntary and an involuntary muscle. It, therefore, links the conscious and unconscious functioning of the body. A central focus of yoga is to make what is unconscious conscious. Pranayama brings the breath and prana into consciousness.


There are many different pranayamas. Here are a few of the most common.

DIRGHA PRANAYAMA: THREE PART YOGIC BREATH

instructions: Slowly inhale and bring the air into the bottom of the lungs with the diaphragm. Then continue inhaling to open and expand the rib cage upward and out to the sides. Continue to inhale up under the shoulders to fill the lungs completely. Then exhale slowly from the top to the bottom of the lungs. Contract the abdominal muscles at the end of the exhalation to squeeze out all of the residual air.
general benefits: Dirgha Pranayma is calming. (student anecdote!) It slows the breathing process increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream so that the body learns to function more efficiently using less oxygen (fuel). Dirgha Pranayama uses the full capacity of the lungs, removing stale air and toxins. It keeps the chest and lungs flexible and relaxed. It increases overall energy, renews the entire system, and improves digestion and elimination.

"HA" BREATH: Relaxing or energizing.

Notice the effects of lengthening the inhale vs. lengthening the exhale.


"HA" breath to relax: 
 

instructions: Inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale gently through the mouth saying "haaaaaaaa" until the lungs are completely empty. Try it with Adhi mudra!
general benefits: This breath releases stress and tension from the body.


"HA" breath to energize:

instructions: Inhale deeply. Exhale quickly and sharply while exclaiming "Ha!". Combine it with movement!
general benefits: Activates the Hara center, the power center just below the navel, and brings energy into the body.

KAKI PRANAYAMA - BEAK BREATH

instructions: Kaki pranayama is called Beak Breath because the mouth is pursed, forming a beak. You can also also think of it as inhaling or exhaling as if you were using a straw. Kaki Pranayama can be done on the inhale or on the exhale with differing effects.
general benefits: In kaki Pranayama, the awareness is on the lips. On the inhale, this pranayama forms a stream of air directly to the lungs. and lengthens the inhalation. On the exhale, it has a soothing effect and helps to open the heart chakra.

KAPALABHATI PRANAYAMA - SKULL POLISHING BREATH, BREATH OF FIRE


instructions: Sitting with an erect spine, take some deep breaths and relax. Exhale forcefully through the nostrils, contracting the abdominal muscles. Then relax the abdomen immediately. The inhalation will happen passively. Repeat slowly at first to make sure the belly is relaxing after the contraction. Then, pick up the pace, finding your own rhythm. The breath is in the abdomen, the chest is relaxed.
Start slowly with 10-20 repetitions, over time progressing to 70-100 repetitions per round. If you feel short of breath slow down to allow more time for the inhalation.
general benefits: Kapalabhati strengthens the abdominal muscles, diaphragm and heart. It deeply massages the internal organs, stimulates digestion and elimination. It removes stale air and toxins from the lungs and pumps fresh prana into all cells of the body. It energizes, massages, and cleanses the central nervous system, bringing mental clarity, alertness.

NADI SHODHANA: ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATH

instructions: Use the right thumb and right ring finger for Nadi Shodhana. Close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left nostril. Inhale through the left, close using the ring finger and exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, close, exhale left. Continue with smooth, deep breathing through alternating nostrils.
general benefits: Nadi Shodhana stimulates the brain side-to side, synchronizes the hemispheres, and balances any dominance. It strengthens, calms, and regulates the nadis (the nervous system), eliminates wastes and increases assimilation of energy. If you experience dizziness during pranayama then slow down your breathing. If you are gasping, speed up the breath. Breathe less deep if there is nausea.

UJJAYI PRANAYAMA: OCEAN SOUNDING BREATH

instructions: Say "haaaa" as if you were fogging a mirror. Now say 'haaaa" on the inhalation and the exhalation. Don't make the sound too loud and keep it smooth and even. When you are able to whisper the sound through the mouth evenly in and out, close the mouth and continue the sound through the nostrils on the inhalation and exhalation. You will feel the back of the throat lightly constrict. Continue with long deep breaths.
general benefits: Ujjayi Pranayama is deeply relaxing and soothing. The breath is lengthened and the air is drawn to the bottom of the longs. The mind becomes absorbed and focused by the sound which induces meditation. It heightens awareness and enhances creativity.

One can connect with a state that feels eternal, understanding that one is at once the body and also all that exists.
- Christina and Stanislav Grof