Guest Author - Terri Johansen
Practicing yoga is more than doing poses(asanas). It is only a starting point as there are many other aspects of yoga. Such as pranayama, made up of two Sanskrit words “prana” which is “life force” and yama which is discipline. Together these words are the discipline of life force energy, or discipline of the breath. Pranayama is a vast network of breathing practices and the regulation of the breath.
Pranayama is not a proven science in the West but in the East this subtle energy force is part of medical practice. Pranayama is considered the emotional body, the life force, and connects the physical body to the emotional body. Breathing practices work in the body to bring about balance to the energy within the body.
The very basic science describes the breath as flowing through 3 channels within our bodies. These are:
Sushumna – the main channel which runs in connection with the spinal cord
Ida – runs on the left of the sushumna. It is associated with the moon, and cooling the life energy.
Pingala –runs to the right of the sushumna and is associated with the sun and light warm energies. These 3 channels coil around the spine like a snake. At the bottom of the spinal cord lies the inactive energy called Kundalini. Through breathing practice the coil is unbound and regulation of prana and energy results.
These concepts are hard to understand so at this point I won’t go any deeper into the scientific process of Pranayama. I am going to give you 2 examples of breathing practices that are simple and you should try each one. Adding breathing practice to your yoga is important because it can create a feeling of calm throughout the body. Beginning each yoga session with 3 minutes of breathing is a good start to become more familiar with pranayama. If you feel lightheaded or your head begins to hurt stop the practice immediately.
The Complete Breath also called the Three-Part Breath-this is the most common breath and the first one you will probably learn in a class. It helps you to become physically familiar with the fullness and path of your breath.
•You can do this practice seated and probably will at times but I think it is easier to learn lying down.
•Come to a comfortable position on your back on the floor. Your legs can be straight out or knees bent.
•For the first moment’s just lie still and notice your breath. Don’t try to control it just be aware of it.
•Place both hands on your lower abdomen. Take a deep inhale and feel your abdomen expand like a balloon. Exhale and feel how the abdomen contracts and relaxes under your hands. This is part 1.
•Next place your hands on each side of your rib cage. Again take a deep breath and feel your rib cage open and swell. Exhale and feel how the air is released and the rib cage returns to normal. This is part 2.
•Place both hands on your upper chest. Inhale and feel the chest lift under your hands. Exhale and feel it relax. This is part 3.
•Now the fun part, still resting comfortably on your back engage all three parts into one breath. Inhale and the abdomen rises, the rib cage opens, and chest swells. Exhale and the abdomen contracts, the rib cage releases, and the chest expels all air.
I recommend practicing this on the floor until the movements become familiar to you. Then, if you prefer, move to a seated position.
Alternate Nostril Breathing- is good to use at the beginning and/or end of a day. It balances your nervous system, relieves stress, and brings harmony between the mental, physical, and spiritual bodies.
•This pose should be done in a seated position. The hand position you will use is called the Vishnu Mudra. With your right hand, extend the thumb, ring finger, and little finger, and then fold your middle and index toward your palm. The left hand remains still.
•With your right hand in the Vishnu Mudra, inhale and exhale through the left nostril.
•Inhale through the left nostril and close off the left nostril with your ring finger.
•Exhale through your right nostril, and then inhale through the right.
•Close off the right nostril with your thumb.
•Inhale and exhale through the left nostril. Then close it off and inhale and exhale through the right nostril and close it off.
•You will repeat this process as long as you want, try for at least 2 minutes to start.
So now you have 2 breathing practices to put to good use. I will go deeper into the pranayama science at a later time. Enjoy the peace and calm this breathing will bring you.
Live well, practice yoga.
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