Basics of Pranayama

Yoga is beyond asanas. According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path leading to liberation, known as the ‘Ashtanga Yoga System’ or ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga
YAMA – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
NIYAMA – Positive duties or observances
ASANA – Posture
PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques
PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal
DHARANA – Focused concentration
DHYANA – Meditative absorption
SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment

Today, I would like to share on Pranayama. It’s something new that I picked up from the YTT course and resonates with me greatly. In that, I see real changes happening to me. To my body and to my mind, and it extends to my emotion state too.

What is Pranayama?
The word Prana refers to ‘energy’ or ‘life source’. It can be used to describe the very essence that keeps us alive, as well as the energy in the universe around us. Prana also often describes the breath, and by working with the way we breathe, we affect the mind in a very real way.

Pranayama can be understood as either ‘prana-yama’ which would mean ‘breath – control’ or ‘breath restraint’, or it could be understood as ‘prana-ayama’ which would translate as ‘freedom of breath’, ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation’.

Benefits of Pranayama
Practice of pranayama yoga has been reported to be beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, stuttering and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Pranayama techniques are also effective for depression cure. Practice of prayanama develops a steady mind, strong will-power and sound judgment.

Different types of Pranayama
The physical act of working with different breathing techniques alters the mind in a myriad of ways – we can choose calming practices like Anuloma-Viloma (alternate nostril breathing) or more stimulating techniques such as Kapalabhati (skull cleansing breathing).

Anuloma-Viloma (alternate nostril breathing)
Breathing is done only through one nostril which is alternated. During this process, the other nostril is closed using the fingers. The thumb is used to close the right nostril and the ring finger is used to close the left nostril.

Kapalabhati (skull cleansing breathing)
To perform the kapalabhati pranayama technique, sit in a comfortable position crossing your legs. Perform two to three deep inhales and exhales.

Now inhale deeply and exhale forcefully drawing all the air out. Your belly should be drawn in, as you exhale.When you inhale, let it happen passively without you making any effort to inhale as the belly goes back to normal position. Exhale forcefully again and continue doing this for about 20 to 30 times.

There are many times of pranayama techniques out there, above and beyond the mentioned two on top. Ulitmately, each way of breathing will change our state of being, but it’s up to us as to whether we perceive this as ‘controlling’ the way we feel or ‘freeing’ ourselves from the habitual way our mind may usually be.

Keep breathing and free your mind as you breathe!