Sure, with a yoga teacher training course, I expected intense asana practice. Sure, I expected to learn a little about the anatomy and muscular system. Sure, I expected to learn practical tips and tricks to teach yoga.
What I wasn’t expecting though is to learn a new language (well, just a little bit of Sanskrit), travel back time to hear the rich history and philosophy of yoga, and understand the natural workings of the body and the way the world works.
My favourite topic in the course would be everything to do with Pranayama. I didn’t expect to learn a trick about living longer (and live longer, healthily). “Prana” means “vital life force” and “ayama” means “extension”. Therefore Pranayama is the regulation of breath that would extend your life.
“Bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desa kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah” – Yoga Sutra 2.51
Roughly translated as “Inhale, exhale, holding, moving, action, duration, regulate, long and deep”, this yoga sutra clearly explains pranayama. Elongated and prolonged, deep and controlled always regulates the breath and has wonderful benefits for the body, mind and spirit.
Here are some Pranayama techniques:
- Anuloma Nilouma
- Nadi Shodhana
Note that during Pranayama, the exhalation is always longer than the inhalation, and if there is retention of breath it should also be longer than the inhalation. In ratio terms, it would be 1:2:2 or 1:4:2 (inhale:holding:exhalation). In terms of number of breath counts, it should be at least 6 counts (e.g. inhale for 6 counts, hold for 12 counts, exhale for 12 counts in 1:2:2 ratio).
Pranayama ensures more oxygen to the lungs and is good for the cardiac system. Pranayama tones up kidney and control the functions of nervous system. Kumbhaka or retention of breath facilitates better work of lungs and triggers the brain to work more efficiently. Pranayama affects autonomic nervous system which controls heart rate, glandular secretions, respiration, digestion and blood pressure.
It is said that the longer and slower your breath, the longer you will live. Take the example of a dog: their breath is short and quick and their life is (very sadly) much shorter than a human being.
Pranayama benefits are far and wide, living true to its name as the ‘vital life force’. Next time, when you feel stuck, stressed and simply need to calm your mind and body – breathe!