So often, we think that yoga is all about the postures, about being able to physically do all the asanas that there is to do. But if that were true, than we would all be gymnasts in the making. The main difference from yoga and gymnastics is our breath. And also maybe the fact that we are not doing flips and back handsprings, but the handstands and the forearm balances and all those crazy moves can be mistaken in the western world that this is all what yoga is. But yoga has a wide spectrum of aspects and asana is just one of them. Breath has a big role to play in our yoga practice, without our breath we are not doing yoga.
Yoga means UNION and when we unify our breath with asanas, then that’s when we are doing yoga, or at least Hatha Yoga. So now diving deeper into our breath, we want to talk about Pranayama.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is the control of Breath (Breathing exercises).
Prana is the life force that is running through our bodies and everything around us, our vital energy. Ayama translates to “control”.
It is the fourth limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga.
Prana is our vital energy that flows through us and everything around us. It creates an aura around our bodies. It flows through thousands of energy channels known as ‘nadis’ and our energy centers called ‘chakras’. The way that prana flows through our nadis and chakras determines our state of mind. If our prana levels are high and fluid, the mind remains calm, positive and excited. However, in an average person who is not aware of the power of their breath, the nadis and chakras may be partially or even fully blocked, creating a bumpy and broken flow. In this way, our worries, fears, anxieties and other negative qualities arise. Every problem that may occur, first begins in the subtle body and later shows up in the physical body. So, when we decide to work on freeing our breath through means of pranayama, we work on letting the life energy flow smoothly through the body. The smooth flow of prana through our bodies will energize us, relax us, heal us and most of all, balance us.
Types of Pranayama
Pranayama doesn’t need to be practiced with asana. It can also be practiced as an isolated technique by simply just sitting and performing breathing exercises. There isn’t just one way to control the breath, there are several ways to do so, meaning there are several types of pranayama, such as:
- Nadi Sodhana – Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Shitali Pranayama – Cooling Breath
- Ujjayi Breath – Victorious Breath
- Kapalabhati Pranayama – Skull Shining Breath
- Kumbhaka Pranayama – Retention of Breath
- Bhastrika Pranayama – Bellows Breath
- Bhramari Pranayama – Humming Bee Breath
- Viloma Pranayama – Paused inhalation
And many more!!
As you can see there are many different kinds of Pranayama techniques and each technique has a different effect. Just as yoga asanas affect us differently, so does the way we breathe. Most of them are practiced sitting down in a comfortable cross-legged position or in Lotus Pose. The idea is for the breath exercises to be smooth and even. The best time of the day to practice pranayama is first thing in the morning, before breakfast on an empty stomach. Remember that just like asanas, pranayamas must be done with great care and awareness. Try to be patient, never force or restrict your breath and over time you will definitely notice the benefits of the practice. Stay tuned for an upcoming post where we will explain how to do certain pranayamas! Until then, we hope you enjoyed learning about what Pranayama really is! <3