Pranayama. What does it mean?

Pranayama. Prana = Life force, ayama= to regulate or extend.

By practicing pranayama techniques, we regulate and increase the life force/life energy within our bodies.  Prana is the vital energy which is needed by our physical and subtle bodies, without which we would die. It is the miracle of life – that which makes your heart beat by itself, that which gives life to all of the unconscious and conscious physical processes of the body.  And it doesn’t just exist within humans- it’s in (and connects) all living things and all matter.


Why is it so important?

Pranayama is a way of removing emotional and physical blocks within the body that stop the prana from moving freely.  When prana cannot move freely, diseases of the mind and body can occur.


The Breath

Pranayama techniques usually involve control of the breath and there are many different practices that offer differing effects.  Breathing ”correctly” (fully and deeply) has the power to dramatically improve your health and well-being.  We can survive for weeks without food, around a week without water, but only a few minutes without breathing.

A good practice to start with is just to notice the way you are breathing, at intervals throughout the day.  Notice your breath when you first wake up in the morning.  Notice your breath when you are anxious. Notice your breath when you are tired. Observe it when you are excited.  The mind and the breath are linked, for example, when you are anxious and experiencing a lot of thoughts,  your breathing is likely to be shallow and short. When I am anxious, I find that I am holding my breath without even realising that I’m doing it (which makes it worst!) When you observe it, you can change it. Just as the mind affects the breath, we can switch it up and use the breath to change the mind in the way we desire.

E.g. when you are feeling anxious and you have noticed that you have stopped breathing properly, take control of your breath. Take 10 smooth, long and deep (but not overly forced) breaths.  Visualise any fear or worry leaving your body as you exhale.




Pranayama Techniques

Pranayama can be practiced in a simple cross legged position, on a chair or in Hero Pose.

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing) has a relaxing and calming effect on the nervous system.  It involves covering one nostril and breathing through the other, and then switching to the other nostril.  Start by covering your right nostril with your thumb and exhaling through the left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril. Then cover the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right. Inhale through the right nostril. Then cover the right nostril with the thumb and again exhale through the left.  This is one round of nadi shodhana. Try to practice at least 5 rounds, focusing on keeping the breath smooth and the length of the inhale and exhale the same (it can be good to count to 6 to ensure the inhales and exhales are the same length).

Kapalabhati has an energising and stimulating effect on the body and mind, and is excellent to practice if you are feeling lethargic.  Sitting in a comfortable position, begin to deepen your breath.  When you are ready to begin, inhale and fill your lungs to 75% capacity and forcibly expel the air from your lungs by drawing the abdomen in.  Allow the inhale to be natural, and again forcibly exhale by drawing the belly in.  Keep going for around 20 breaths if you can.  Relax for a few natural breaths and then repeat 2 more round of 20 breaths.  If you begin to feel dizzy, relax when necessary.  When you are first starting these practices, pay close attention to your limits and build on them gradually.

Bumble Bee breath is my favourite. An excellent practice to try if you are feeling overstimulated and need to center yourself.  Close your eyes and place your middle and index fingers over your eyes.  Place your thumbs in your ears. Take a deep breath in, and as you breathe out, hum like a bumble bee for the duration of your exhale.  Inhale through the nose as normal and repeat.  Allow the vibrations of the hum to pass through your body. Repeat as many times as you like.

Watch this space for pranayama video classes, or try some pranayama in Hartig Yoga’s Palm Cove Yoga Classes.

Namaste : )