Of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Pranayama, or the expansion of vital energy with air, has been of the most significance in my practice. Pranayama is the art of changing the depth, rate and pattern of breathing to keep the mind and body in perfect union. There are multiple different Pranayama techniques that can be used to control that state of the mind and body depending on purpose of one’s practice.
For example, Kapalabhati or skull-shining breath is best practiced in the morning or mid-afternoon to purify, rejuvenate and invigorate the mind and body. This breath consists of a series of active exhalations followed by passive inhalations through the nose, by forcefully expelling air from the belly from the pelvic and lower abdominal region. Additional benefits from this Pranayama include improving digestion and strengthening of abdominal muscles.
For evening or restorative practice, slower breathing techniques like Nadi Shodana or channel purifying breath can help to relax the body by lowering the heart rate and allow deeper purification of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems through breath retention. For evening practice, place the right hand in Vishnu Mudra, the hand gesture of preservation, and gently close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril to fill up the lungs. Close the left nostril with the ring and little finger, and retain the breath for twice the number of counts as the inhalation. Finally, exhale for the same number of counts through the right nostril.
What I love about Pranayama is that it can be practiced almost anywhere and under any circumstances, with quick and lasting effect. Throughout my adolescence and adult life, my biggest fears have been the lack of control and uncertainty. – I was easily anxious and allowed self-doubt to take over. Through the study and practice of Pranayama, I have become more aware of how focusing my breath can lower my heart rate and cortisol levels under stress, and help me to manage my thoughts and emotions in difficult situations where solutions are not readily available. As a result, I am more confident in facing obstacles or having difficult conversations, create lasting relationships, improve my personal well-being, and share the benefits of this simple yet highly effective practice with the people around me.