Pranayama:

Breath Control

The breathing technique of Pranayama is the essence of any yogi's life. This yogic breathing science teaches us to control our breath to control our life: prana connects breath and life! The respiratory system of the human body goes way beyond its function and into the art of controling one's emotions and feelings.

Pranayama is more than the physical practice: it is mental and spiritual too. The breath or prana needs to be controled so that one's actions and emotions are also controlled. Consider an athlete or a martial artist - the first thing they learn is breath control. Though they are not specifically taught any pranayama technique, the breathing exercises are the same. Pranayama not only prepares the body for action but also the mind for meditation. During one's yoga practice, the body is first prepared through shatkriyas and asanas for pranayama breathing exercises. These in turn prepare the mind for meditation. So the body is prepped for pranayam that itself is a prep for meditation.

Every breathing exercise has a tantric connection wherein the body is harmonized with the mind

which in turn leads to the realization of consciousness!

Realization of Breath

Basic exercises include focusing on the breath to feel it's passage through each of the following: nostrils, base of the nose, throat, wind pipe, and lungs. One feels the temperature of the air going in, the rib cage expanding, the stomach getting slightly compressed, etc. From focusing on normal breathing, one advances to deep breathing, slow breathing, rapid breathing, rhythmic breathing, and specialized forms such as ujjayi breathing. One of the most important aspects of asana practice is the breath that many newbie yogis forget. Hence, proper yoga breathing is absolutely essential while performing the asanas.

 

A simple rule is as follows: any contraction of the body is preceeded by exhalation while expansion

is preceeded by inhalation. Example: A forward bending posture requires exhalation

while a backward bending posture will require inhalation.

 

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

This breathing technique helps to cleanse the nadis, control blood pressure, regulate body temperature, and enhance breath awareness. It may seem as if the yoga literature exaggerates the benefits of every asana or paranayama. This is not the case: one asana/pranayama is not going to solve all your problems because each Yoga Sutra is a holistic system. However, the tantric approach is to focus on one ailment and imagine that it is getting cured while performing the nadi shodhana. Personally, I imagine my diabetes being controlled when I perform this exercise. Most others imagine their blood pressure being controlled. It appears that, for most people, this exercise helps control blood pressure.

 

Ujjayi Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)

This is another form of pranayama that creates healthy vibrations in the throat and stimulates the sinuses. Watch the video carefully, you don't need to understand Hindi to follow the instructions. The Kiai in Karate is an explosive form of this technique.

Components of Breathing Practices

 1. Rate of breathing: Slow, fast, rapid, deep, and shallow.

 2. Holding of the breath: Internal retention, external retention (collapsing the lungs).

 3. Breathing pattern: There are many patterns, alternate nostril breathing is one popular example wherein air is inhaled from the left nostril and exhaled from the right nostril. When you inhale and exhale in differing patterns, you simulate the different ways in which we breathe when faced in different bodily situations. Try and practice breath awareness to see how your breathing changes when performing diffrent bodily actions.

 4. Pranayama Exercises: These exercises are combined with certain body locks called bandhas to accentuate the experience of the life force. This sensation can be considered the basic unit of life. Example: Take a deep breath and hold it; after a while, you will feel an urgent need to breathe. The opposite is also true. After exhaling completely, hold your breath and you will feel the prana leaving you.

 

Bhastrika Pranayama

This is forceful exhalation of breath. Normally, this is not advised for people with high blood pressure, but remember that the heart rate is not affected by one act alone. The entire body constitution is responsible. If your diet is unhealthy, your body is already unhealthy, so thinking that a certain yoga technique will cause you harm is quite an erroneous way of thinking.

 

All Yoga is holistic, so follow all the principles - from diet to thought to exercise!

Kapalbhati Pranayama

One of the most pleasurable forms of exercises, this helps tremendously with diabetic control. It exercises the abdominal muscles and also the pancreas. Remember that the inhalation happens automatically as a reaction to the forceful exhalation. You shouldn't be inhaling consciously. Here is an example of a novice doing Kapalbhati. You need to compare the two videos and see how your practice progresses from one to the other.

Bhramari Pranayama

This exercise emulates a bee when you start humming. While performing this form of breathing, you will evoke memories that you thought were impossible to retain. Bhramari is also a great example to demonstrate how pranayama practice is absolutely vital for meditation!