Intro to Pranayama

Breathing is so simple and so obvious, we often take it for granted, ignoring the power it has to affect body, mind and spirit. With each inhale we nourish our body with oxygen. Each exhale purges the body of carbon dioxide. Breathing also affects our state of mind. It can make us excited or calm, tense or relaxed. It can make our thinking confused or clear. What’s more, in the yogic tradition, air is the primary source of prana or life force.

Pranayama is loosely translated as breath control. The ancient yogis developed many breathing techniques to maximize the benefits of prana. Pranayama is used in yoga as a separate practice to help clear and cleanse the body and mind. It is also used in preparation for meditation, and in asana,the practice of postures, to help maximize the benefits of the practice and focus the mind.

Most of us tend to be chest breathers. We need to retrain ourselves to be belly-breathers. To inhale deeply, exercising the diaphragm. One particular Pranayama technique that I encourage my students to practice is Dirgha Pranayama – known as “complete” or “3 part breath.”

Dirgha Pranayama teaches how to fill the three chambers of the lungs, beginning with the lower lungs, then moving up through the thoracic region and into the clavicular region.

Benefits:

Promotes proper diaphragmatic breathing, relaxes the mind and body, oxygenates the blood and purges the lungs of residual carbon dioxide.

How to do it:

Sit with your spine erect, or lie down on your back. Begin taking long, slow, and deep breaths through the nostrils.

1.      As you inhale, allow the belly to fill with air, drawing air deep into the lower lungs. As you exhale, allow the belly to deflate like a balloon. Repeat several times, keeping the breath smooth and relaxed, and never straining. Repeat several times.

2.      Breathe into your belly as in Step 1, but also expand the mid-chest region by allowing the rib cage to open outward to the sides. As you exhale, think about releasing the air from your chest first, then your belly. and repeat several times.

3.      Follow steps 1 and 2 and continue inhaling by opening the clavicular region or upper chest. Inhale first you’re your belly, then mid-chest, then upper chest. Exhale in the reverse order – upper chest, mid chest, then belly. and repeat.

4.      Combine all three steps into one continuous or complete flow.

When to do it:

During asana practice
Prior to meditation
Prior to relaxation
Anytime you feel like it

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