The Art of Breathing
Prāṇāyāma (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम) means control (ayāma) of the life force (prāṇa)“. It is an ancient yogic technique where prana is controlled through the practice of breathing exercises. Pranayama is good for both our physical and mental health, and can also be used on a spiritual level to reach the higher states of yoga, such as the withdrawal of senses inwards, concentration, and the state of mediation, as described by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (ashtanga/raja yoga). It is a true art of breathing that can be used as a meditation technique to control our mind, and through the mind also our thoughts and emotions (such as fear, anxiety, stress, etc.). At the same time, it provides the practicioner with numerous heath benefits.
Health benefits of pranayama
- increases life span (it is proportionate to the rate of our breathing)
- increases absorption of oxygen (increased capacity to utilise our lungs)
- control of emotions and thoughts (mental stability, stress-resiliency)
- increases concentraction, improves memory, and strengthens will power
- clears nasal passages
- decreases high blood pressure
- helps in controlling psychosomatic diseases like insomnia, depression, etc.
- relieves stress, anxiety, nervousness, and headaches
- strengthens immune system and increases digestion
- helps in detoxication
- increases energy and relaxes muscles
- helps to general well being, relaxation, and happiness 🙂
Is pranayama for everyone?
Yes, it is. Everyone will benefit from regular practice of pranayama, regardless of age, physical disposition, and health condition. It does not matter how advanced your asana practice is, or whether you are a beginner. It is suitable even for pregnant women and people with health issues, whom will do a specially modified pranayama beneficial to their current state of physical condition. Naturally, everyone´s practice will be different based on their health condition, level of dedication and concentration to the practice, and the intention with which they practice.
How does a pranayama class look like?
We will start the class with an opening mantra and end with a closing mantra. Inbetween, we will be sitting the whole time, with about 5-10 minutes of relaxation lying down (shavasana/yoga nidra – yogic sleep) at the end. We will sit straight and keep our focus on our breath the whole time, while counting and regulating the amounts of inhales, breath retentions, and exhales in order to create balance in the body, and switch the mind to a meditative state through this special rhythm of breathing.
You don´t need anything special for the pranayama practice (apart from good intention, concentration, and dedication to practice) 🙂 Just wear comfortable clothing that is not too tight especially around your chest and stomach area, so that it doesn´t disctract your focus. Yoga mats, blocks and blankets to make you more comfortable will be provided. You don´t need to fear that you can´t sit for so long 🙂 You can take little breaks at the beginning if absolutely necessary, but with time any discomfort will go away. It´s question of our level of concentration and mindset more than lack of physical capacity to sit anyway (that´s why you can sit on a block, which will be of great help at the beginning).
How do I teach pranayama?
I endeavour to teach pranayama the best I can as I am being taught since 2015 by our dear teacher Vinay Kumar in Mysore, south India. He has been teaching us the same way he was taught by his teacher, and in this way the lineage of teaching continues.
First, we will learn basic pranayama exercises that can be managed by everyone. As the practice will progress, we will add longer breath retentions and keep adding to the basics. In case of regular really dedicated practicioners, we will introduce more advanced pranayama with bandhas (actually the real pranayama involves longer breath retentions with bandhas, everything else is just a preparation for it, so that the practicioner can handle the pranic flow in the body). Everyone will benefit from pranayama practice if done properly, even with the basic pranayama. The progress depends on the individual´s effort, concentration, and regularity of the practice. Then sky is the limit 🙂 You can go beyond time and space to a state of “beautiful nothing”, where everything ceases to exist, no thoughts come, and you can explore what is beyond … But be aware, that it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work. Nevertheless, it is absolutely worth it, and you can reach a stage of practice/mind that is way beyond asana practice, or maybe even beyond your imagination.
Please note that any kind of serious yoga practice takes time. A lot of time. The subtler the practice, the more potent its power. Nevertheless, if you expect that your thoughts will suddenly stop after you tried the practice a few times, and yet your thoughts have been uncontrollably running for decades, think again 😀 For any serious practice, one needs to be fully focused and keep practising regularly. Patience is the key.
For more information on pranayama, you can read this short scientific article explaining its health benefits “Proper Breathing Brings Better Health“, or better yet the book “Pranayama” by André van Lysebeth. Nevertheless, no theory can replace the practice 🙂