What is Pranayama and what does it have to do with yoga?
If you have heard of yoga, chances are you have heard something along the lines of “breath and movement” used to describe it. Fancy yoga words and complex descriptions add to the confusion of what is a very basic principle. We breathe in and out on a constant basis. Sometimes we are aware of it, sometimes not, but we do it ALL the time– it keeps us alive.
The Sanskrit word for this is Prana, meaning vital life force. Add Ayama, the Sanscrit word for extending or stretching, and we have Pranayama— the practice of extending the breath. Pranayama directly translates to “the control of life force.” So there you have it in very simple terms— Pranayama is exercising the breath, nothing more, nothing less. No need to make it complicated. It is a reminder to pay attention to something that we often take for granted.
How do I do it?
There are numerous pranayama practices developed over centuries by yogis that involve long holds, rapid short inhalations, using different sides of the nose, moving the abdomen, ribs, and chest…the list goes on. All are interesting ways of exploring the mechanics of our breath. But the best way to actually get started is to simply breathe slowly and intentionally. It can be done anywhere and any time. Sometimes it is a singular deep breath in a moment of stress, other times it can be a quieter more meditative practice for a longer period of time. The point is to not make a huge deal about it, and to just start paying attention to how you breathe…in other words, be mindful.
A Simple Exercise for Anytime, Anywhere
Exhale and empty out the lungs as comfortably as possible.
Pause and close the lips. Close the eyes to reduce distraction.
Slowly begin to inhale through the nose and visualize your lungs filling up.
Pause at the top of your breath softly.
Slowly exhale through the nose.
Pause and repeat.
See? Not exactly rocket science! So go ahead and make friends with your breath. Use it to simmer down, relax, and see where it takes you.
Why Should We Practice Breathing?
If you are interested in diving deeper into the breathing principles of yoga, I encourage you to join me this November for Explore and Restore at Yoga Garden Fridays at 3pm where we will explore the anatomy of breathing and its relationship to wellness each week. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite reasons to take a deep breath.
Increased Energy by oxygenating the blood
Stress Reduction by reversing muscular tension in the body
Improved Digestion by stimulating the intestines and digestive organs with increased blood flow
Reduce Pain by releasing endorphins