Pranayama is the word Yogis use for Yogic breathing techniques. It is the Fourth limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that is composed of two separate words, “Prana” which means “life force” and Ayama which means to “extend”, “draw out” or “suspend.” There are well over fifty different types of Yoga breathing techniques or Pranayama to practice that range from very simple and basic to complicated and advanced.
All styles and lineages of Yoga include Pranayama. From Hatha to Restorative to alignment based practices like Iyengar and many more, especially Kundalini and Vinyasa you will encounter various prescribed breathing techniques which may accompany specific poses or be done on their own. The different types of Pranayama provide a variety physiological responses and characteristics. Certain types of breathing may be referred to with adjectives such as cooling, warming, calming or energizing.
The benefits of including mindful breathing techniques in your life are quite significant. Both scientific research and anecdotal evidence exist supporting the idea that daily breathing practices can even extend your life. There are many well-known health benefits of practicing Pranayama.
Three Pranayama Practices:
1. Ujjayi Breathing –
To start, take a full inhale through your nose and then exhale with control through an open mouth. Move your exhale across the back of your throat slowly while whispering a HAAAAA sound. Repeat this exercise a few times. The sound of the Ujjayi breath is made by toning the throat or vocal diaphragm and sounds a bit like a sigh.
Now try it with your mouth closed. As you inhale and exhale through your nose, direct the breath again slowly across the back of your throat. You should hear, a soft hissing sound as if you were fogging a mirror. When you breathe through your nose both on the inhale and exhale the air will be both warmed and filtered. Focus on making your breath deliberate, smooth and even, this will create a relaxing and calming effect that will draw you into a meditative practice. At first making noise as you breathe may seem strange to you, but stick with it. Ujjayi breathing will greatly enhance your Yoga practice.
2. Vinyasa –
3. Lion Pose or Simhasana –
Place both your hands on top of your knees and resist the urge to slouch. Widen your palms and splay your fingers like lion’s claws, pressing them against your knees firmly.
Take a deep inhale through your nose and then open your mouth as wide as possible while at the same time stretching your tongue out and and curling it down toward your chin. Simultaneously open your eyes wide and direct your gaze upward focusing on the space between your eyebrows or at the end of your nose. Send energy out your finger tips, splaying them out even further as you contract the muscles in the front of your throat. While you are holding this position slowly exhale through your wide-open mouth. Let the air slowly pass over the back of your throat, like the Ujjayi Breath, you will hiss the HAAAAA sound. This is your lions roar! Make it count. Roar two to three times before retracting your tongue and relaxing your face and uncrossing your ankles.
Now cross your ankles the opposite way with the left over the right and repeat Lion Pose on the other side.
Pranayama is the gateway to your relaxation response and arguably the most important of the eight limbs of Yoga. It isn’t easy at first but the more you practice the more natural it becomes. Try not to be self-conscious about breathing audibly, your practice will be greatly enhanced as a result of these practices. You stand to gain deeper relaxation, greater flexibility, increased focus and so much more.
Caution: Practice Pranayama gently without being too forceful or overly aggressive with your inhale or exhale.