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Pranayama: Breath Control

18 Mar 2017   Shanti Gowans

Pranayama or the science of yoga breathing, is the fourth limb in the discipline of yoga, and the first principle with which anyone beginning a yoga practice should concentrate upon. 

Learning to breathe properly is essential. The practice of yoga calls us to pay close attention to the process of breathing in and out…one that we normally take for granted.

Practicing pranayama means to control your internal pranic energy, or life energy. While you intake the breath of life, you must also eliminate the toxins within the depths of your respiratory system, and your life system. Thus Prana and Apana alternate in action. 

Meanings

Prana = life-fore energy; the breath of life; breath's internal energy.
Pra = before; 
an = to breathe, to live
ayama = to extend; to control
Pranayama = extension of the life force; breath control
 
Benefits
 
• Restores health and mental clarity
• Provides relief from stress
• Improves emotional and physical control
• Increases awareness of the body's rhythms

Pranayama exercises

There are several ways to manipulate the breath, and numerous pranayama exercises which are both rejuvenating and relaxing for you to practice the movement of prana. These are aimed at replenishing fresh energy to your mind-body, fresh oxygen to your lungs, and connecting your mind with your body.

Spend between 5-10 minutes a day doing pranayama practice.  First thing in the morning or in the evenings at dusk are the best time. This will change and upgrade your vagus nerve system, affecting your emotions, improving your mood, confidence and resilience.

SAMAVRITTI = SAME ACTION

This breathing practice calms the mind and creates a sense of balance and stability.

- Observe the irregularities of your breathing, and transition to a slower, more even breath. 
- To achieve the same action, or samavritti, inhale for four counts, and then exhale for four counts.
 
DIRGA PRANAYAMA
 
Dirga Pranayama is a three part breathing practice that demonstrates how to fully fill your lungs and then exhale completely. When you feel overwhelmed by stress or fear, and find yourself breathing rapidly or shallowly, Dirga Pranayama can help you remain calm by slowing down your breath and allow you to focus more clearly.
 
- Lie in the Corpse Pose, shavasana, and close your eyes, letting your body and facial muscles fully relax.
- Bring your attention to the natural rhythm of your inhaled and exhaled breath.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your abdominal cavity so that your belly expands for a count of 2, and pause for a moment.
- Continue to expand you abdomen as you expand your chest as you fill the next third of your lungs, to another count of 2, pause for a moment.
- Continue to expand your abdomen as you fill the final third of your lungs to another count of 2, pauing for a moment.
- Then exhale as smoothly as you can for a count of six. 
- Repeat to five times before you begin your yoga session.
 
UJJAYI = THE VICTORIOUS BREATH

Ujjayi breathing tones internal organs, creates and increases internal body heat, improves concentration, and calms the mind and body.

Ujjayi is sometimes called the 'ocean breath' because of the sound air makes as it passes through the narrowed epiglottal passage. During the execution of Ujjayi Pranayama, the mouth stays closed, and there is a slight constriction to the throat as you inhale and exhale.

- Place your hand in front of your mouth, and image that it is a mirror.
- Open your mouth, and exhale a 'hah' sound, as if you were fogging up the mirror. This breath must come from the back of your throat.
- Now close your mouth, and try to breath in a similar way, as if you were again fogging up that imaginary mirror. You will notice a hissing sound coming from the back of your throat. This is the beginning of practicing the Ujjayi breath.
- Maintaining the same even rhythm as the breath in Samavritti, constrict your epiglottis in the back of your throat, inhaling and exhaling with this slight constriction in the back of your throat. 
- Throughout the duration of the entire practice of ujjayi, aim to match the length of your inhale with your exhaled breath, so that your breath is seamless.
- Practice by lengthening your breath, inhaling and exhaling to a count of four. You can then lengthen your inhalation and exhalation to a count of five, and then six.
- As you begin to feel more comfortable with the practice, the Ujjayi breath will start to flow from one breath to the next. This can help you connect your movement with your breathing.

KUMBHAKA = RETAINING THE BREATH

Kumbhaka practice strengthens the diaphragm, restores energy, and cleanses the respiratory system.

Kumbhaka is the practice of holding your breath.

- Begin by practising Samavritti or Ujjayi breathing.
- After every two successive breaths, hold your breath in Kumbhaka for four counts.
- Gradually build so that after four successive breaths, you are holding your breath in kumbhaka for four to eight counts.
- Then allow your exhalation to last longer than your inhalation. Initially, your Kumbhaka will be shorter than your other breaths.
- Eventually reduce the number of breaths inbetween Kumbhaka breaths and increase the number of counts in your inhale, exhale and Kumbhaka.
- Build up to an exhalation twice as long as your inhalation, and a Kumbhaka breath three times as long.
 
ANULOMA VILOMA = ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING

As human beings we do not always breathe through both our nostrils equally. There is usually one side that is more dominant. Anuloma Viloma purifies the energy channels of the subtle body, or nadis, by bringing more balance between your right and left nasal passageways, through right and left nostril breathing. This stimulates the movement and easier flow of prana through you. It calms the mind, lowers the heart rate and relieves stress.

- Begin by forming the Vishnu Mudra hand position, bending your index and middle fingers of your right hand curled down, while keeping your thumb, ring finger and pinkie close together and lifted (pointed upwards). 
- Inhale once normally, and then exhale normally.
- Close off your right nostril with your right thumb, and inhale through your left nostril, keeping your mouth closed.
- Use your ring finger to close off both nostrils and at the top of the breath, and hold your breath momentarily, squeezing both nostrils with your ring finger and your thumb.
- Keeping your ring finger on your left nostril, release (lift) your thumb to exhale out of your right nostril.
- Then, inhale through your right nostril, and then close off both nostrils and pause to hold the breath…
- Begin with five cycles, gradually increasing the number of cycles with practice. Breathe deeply, without puishing yourself to do so. If you feel any tension or lightheadedness, gently breathe into that so that tension or lightheadedness. This will change the acidity of your body and make it more alkaline, which will dissolve a lot of aches and pains.
 
To stimulate Ajna chakra, the chakra of the mind, place your index and middle fingers on your forehead. This is a very powerful hand position in Pranayama practice, because this space between your eyebrows is where the energy from the nadis channels through your nostrils and meets with the central nadi

KAPALABHATI = THE SHINING SKULL

Kapalabathi strengthens the diaphragm, restores energy and cleanses sinuses and the respiratory system.

Kapal means 'skull,' and 'bhati' means shining. The two words together mean 'shining skull.' Kapalabhati breathing incorporates a rhythmic pumping action in the abdominals to exhale. You control your breath by sharply exhaling, while pumping your abdominal muscles in and out. The inhalation is passive, while the exhalation is forceful and sharp. The sharp and rapid exhales will help your lungs to clear any waste from your air passages.

- Begin by loosening and relaxing your abdominal muscles.
- Keeping your mouth closed, breathe only through your nose. Inhale once normally and then exhale normally.
- Inhale halfway, expanding your abdomen, and fill your lower lungs with air.
- Then, push the air out of your belly in a quick, explosive exhale. Think of drawing your stomach in and up as you pump and breathe diaphragmatically.
- The inhalation automatically follows.
- This is one cycle.
- Begin with one rounds of five cycles, and gradually increase to two rounds of five cycles, then to one round of ten cycles, then to two rounds of ten cycles, then one round of twenty cycles, gradually building to four rounds of twenty cycles. 
 
SITHALI = THE COOLING BREATH
 
Sithali cools the body, providing comfort. It is perfect for the end of a rigorous yoga session because it cools the body.
 
Unlike most other Pranayama exercises which call you to breathe through your nostrils, inhalation occurs through the mouth in Sithali breathing.
 
- Take two or three deep inhales and exhales through your nost to prepare.
- To practice Sithali, purse your lips, curl your tongue, rolling the sides upwards, and towards each other to form a tube
- Stick the end of your tongue slightly out, through your pursed lips. (If you can't curl your tongue just make a small O shape with your mouth.)
- Inhale through the tube of your tongue. 
- Retain the breath, close your mouth, and exhale through both nostrils.
- Keeping your tongue curled, repeat 5 to 10 times until you feel the cool-down effect..

 

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About Shantiji

Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography


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