Yoga Breathing, otherwise known as Pranayama, is one of Yogas five principles. The word Pranayama, broken down, shows us why breathing is an integral part of Yogic philosophy and practice. Prana is our life force, or our life energy. Yama means to discipline or control. Ayama translates as expansion. Oxygen is the most valuable nutrient in the body. Without Oxygen we would die in minutes. It is literally our life force. It is essential for every organ in the body. We breathe in life. We breathe out used up energy. This keeps our life force vital. It takes discipline to learn to breathe with consciousness. We tend to become accustomed to short shallow breaths, utilizing only a small part of our lungs. We do not inhale the amount of Oxygen required for our ultimate wellbeing. Neither do we exhale enough of the toxins we are best to eliminate. The breath and Pranayama is the link between our bodies and our minds, the outside and the inside. When we learn the art of Yoga Breathing we achieve an expansion of life force and wellbeing, and a sensation of connection with an expansive universe.
Here are seven tips to help you make the most of Pranayama:
Know Why You Are Practicing Learning how to deep breathe on and off the mat will benefit your life enormously. You will increase the amount of Oxygen going to your brain and other vital organs helping you to feel more energized, alert and healthy. You will also learn that the breath has the power to help you regulate emotion with far more discipline and control.
Learn the Basic Principles Generally, unless instructed otherwise, Yoga breathing is through the nose. There are three parts to breathing deeply that flow together. On a long, calm inhalation the belly expands and the diaphragm drops taking air into the lower lungs. The ribcage expands as the breath fills your middle lungs and your collarbone lifts as air reaches into your upper chest. As you take a slow exhale, the process occurs in reverse as your lungs are emptied. To bring conscious awareness to your breath, pause between the inhalation and the exhalation. This ensures that your breathing is not automatic. Practicing a longer exhalation than inhalation helps with relaxation. A ratio of 1:2 is a good starting point.
Use Your Body to Help You Whether lying down, or in a sitting position, you can use your body to help you perfect the breath. Lying on your back, bring your knees up and tilt your pelvis so that your lower back is flat to the floor. With your arms by your sides, practice raising them in time to the three stages of each inhalation. At the end of each inhalation your arms should be above your head. Pause; then lower them in synchrony with your exhalation. In a sitting pose, you can rest your hands on your middle with the thumb of your right hand below the finger of your left. This will help you to experience the feeling of your belly expanding as you breathe deeply and consciously.
Learn Good Posture To practice Pranayama in a sitting position ensure your spine is straight and your shoulders down and back, creating space across your front. Sit cross-legged if you can and distribute your sitting bones evenly. Gently lengthen your spine, navel and breastbone. Drop your shoulder blades down. Keep your chin level to the floor. Be mindful of your posture. Release any tension in your throat or facial muscles.
Vary Techniques Depending On Your Need Some techniques are good for using in the moment. For example, if you are at work and become aware of stress building in your body you may want to practice a round of three deep conscious breaths. At home you may prefer to use a longer exhalation to inhalation to help you get to sleep. Sometimes, you may want to practice Kundalini Yogas Breath of Fire for more vigorous breathing.
Dont Push Yourself It takes discipline to listen to our bodies and not push ourselves beyond our limits. With slow, steady, continual practice you will see an improvement in your breathing. You dont have to be an immediate master. Find a comfortable rhythm for your breath. Dont force yourself to breathe more deeply than you are able. This will cause tension and you want to remain as relaxed and open as possible.
Become Aware of the Changes in Your Life you will notice, as you practice regularly, that there are changes in the way you experience the world. You may become more aware of the way your body feels, how deeply you are breathing and what is happening in your mind. You will also become less emotionally reactive. The pause, in your breathing, will become a pause in your life. Anytime you need one.