What is pranayama?
Pranayama is one of the most important aspects of a well rounded yoga practice. “Pranayama” is a Sanskrit word that can be broken down in 2 parts. “Prana” means ‘vital energy’ or life force. It is more subtle than air or oxygen (though closely related). It also refers quite literally to the breath “Ayama” Is defined as ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’ or ‘pause’. So pranayama can literally translated as breath control or control of the life force. It can also be translated as breath liberation or expansion of the life force. It is using specific techniques and practices to control the breath.
Why is the breath so important?
It’s the first thing and last thing we do in our lives. The one constant thing we all have. Without breath there is no life! Daily stresses, tensions and physical habits can create physical and energetic obstacles in our bodies. Without even noticing it our breathing can become gradually more shallow or stilted, we develop unconscious breathing patterns restricting the flow of breath and prana. When we work on the freeing the breath through pranayama we are also working on letting the life energy flow through the body. It has the effect of energizing, relaxing and healing the body, letting everything fall into place. Literally it is an increase and balance of life energy in your system.
The Benefits of Pranayama
On a physical level by using pranayama techniques we can utilise and strengthen the whole range of our respiratory organs. We explore the lower, middle and upper parts of the breath and regulate the inhalation, retention and exhalation of the breath. A regular pranayama practice can stimulate the parasympathetic system, countering the overstimulation our bodies go through during the Fight or Flight response. Our breathing patterns are also very closely linked to our emotional states. We will breathe in a different way when we are angry, when we are excited, tired or when we are nervous. However, it works the other way too. We can calm or energize ourselves by changing our breathing patterns. Even by just taking time out to consciously to become more aware of our breath we can help to start to alter our emotional states.
Yogic historical references
The practice of tapping the breath as a tool for cultivating prana -and with it self-awareness and and self-transformation – is found as early as the ancient Vedas, particularly in the Rig Veda from more than 4000 years ago. It is given its first detailed discussion in the Prasna Upanishad, where its all-pervasive and life-sustaining nature is likened to the sun. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika contains detailed description of preparations for pranayama, along with instructions on its practice and warnings against improper use. By practising pranayama we utilise the breath to influence the flow of prana in the nadis (energy channels) of the pranayama kosha (energy body). It helps purify, regulate and activate the nadis, thereby inducing physical and mental stability.
I know from my personal experience that a daily pranayama practice adds much clarity and grounding to my day, and is now an essential part of my yoga practice. It does require patience and persistence, as it is a subtle practice, but the benefits far outweigh the effort put in. “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take
hold of your mind again”. Thich Nhat Hanh
Nikki will be one of the teachers leading the
Yoga Teacher Training commencing in January 2018