16 Nov Pranayama (breath control)
This piece was originally published in the OWY newsletter in December of 2013.
Previously I talked about asana. As a quick review the 8 limbs of yoga are:
- Yamas (external restraints)
- Niyamas (internal observances)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption)
Ah, pranayama. No, really, say “ahhhh”.
Breathe deeply, exhale and relax.
The most widely held definition of pranayama is control of breath. I’ve also heard it explained that pranayama is the absence of control of the breath, allowing it to happen naturally.
In Swami Vivikenanda’s book, Raja Yoga, he explains pranayama not as breath control, but control of prana, or life force energy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prana). Breathing being the easiest way for us to effect prana in our bodies.
There are a number of breathing practices in the yogic tradition. The easiest being deep belly breathing. This is where my teacher suggests to start teaching people when it comes to pranayama, or breath practices, and it is where I start. It is simple yet very effective.
If you can, notice when you’re stressed how your breath is. If you’re like most people your breath is short and restrained. So to breathe deeply when stressed helps to relax the nervous system and relieve tension in the body. Generally the breath is our way of connecting and being more aware of our bodies. An interesting experiment is to breathe into different parts of your body. Obviously you cannot literally breathe into parts of your body other than your lungs, but this exercise is a way for us to bring our awareness, or attention, to different parts of our bodies. I like to think of it as exercising our nervous system, or our sense of feeling in our body.
There are lots of resources for studying pranayama (youtube videos, books, etc.). There’s nothing like regular attendance of a yoga class for it though. Having the guidance of someone with experience is invaluable and most teachers will explain any contraindications (when not to practice).
In what ways can you be more mindful of how you are breathing this week? Can you sense a difference between how you feel and think when your breathing is relaxed versus restrained? How can you play with this?
Continue with Pratyahara.