What is Yogic Breathing or Pranayama?
Ancient Indian Sages realised that they could enhance the quality and levels of Prana by practicing breathing techniques, referred to as Pranayama. Common pranayamas include Bhastrika, Kapalabhati and Nadi Shodan. With regular practice, a person can increase the quality and quantity of prank, clearing nadis and chakras in the process. This leaves the practitioner feeling energetic and positive. When taught correctly, under supervision, pranayamas bring harmony to the body, mind and spirit. But what exactly is Prana, Chakra’s or Nadi?
‘Prana’ is the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Prana is the vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. It is what keeps us alive. It flows through thousands of subtle energy channels referred to as ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity quality of prana, and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines the state of one’s mind. If the Prana level is high and its flow is continuous, then the mind stays in a calm, positive and enthusiastic state.
Alternatively, if the Prana level is low, this leads to the nadis and chakras being partially or fully blocked leading to a and broken flow. This leads to increased worries, fear, uncertainty, tensions, conflict and other negative qualities.
Pranayama’s for beginners are designed to teach a person breathing control. As previously mentioned, these should be first learnt under the supervision of a Yoga Teacher to make sure you are carrying them out correctly. Some techniques beginners will come across, include the following:
Samavrtti – Same Breathing
Begin by observing your breathing and its irregularities, transitioning each breath to being slower and more even. To achieve Samavrtti, inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts. This breathing technique calms the mind and creates a sense of balance and clarity.
Ujjayi – The Victorious Breath
Often referred to as the ‘Ocean Breath’ due to the noise the air makes as it passes through, this technique involves maintaining the same rhythm as Samavrtti. Constrict your epiglottis (The flap of cartilage that switches to allow you to breath or swallow) to the back of your throat, while keeping your mouth closed. Listen for the hiss in the back of your throat to know when you have achieved this. Ujjayi tones internal organs, increases body heat, improves concentration and calms the mind and body.
Kumbhaka – Retaining the Breath
This is the practice of holding your breath. Start by practicing either the Samavrtti or Ujjayi. Once you have settled into this, after every four successive breaths, hold your breath in Kumbhgka for four to eight counts. Exhalations should last longer than Inhalations. When your first start your Kumbhgka will be shorter than your other breaths, but you will gradually reduce the number of breaths between Kumbhaka, until you have built your exhalation to twice as long as your inhalation, and your Kumbhgka breath three times as long. Kumbhaka strengthens the diaphragm, resorts energy and cleanses the respiratory system.
Here’s a great introductory video to various types of Pranayama techniques: