The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between the body, mind and spirit. These eight steps basically act as a guideline on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Pranayama or breath is the fourth of these 8 steps and a vital tool in influencing our body & mind.
“Without proper breathing, the yoga postures are nothing more than calisthenics.” ~ Rachel Schaeffer
What is Pranayama?
‘Prana’ is breath, life force or vital energy in the body and ‘ayama’ means to extend, draw out or control. Breathing is life, one of our most vital functions. It also has the ability to profoundly effect the functionality of systems in the body and our mood. One of the five principles of yoga is pranayama, or breathing exercises, which promotes proper breathing.
Breath for life
On the mat we have a tendency to hold the breath or use short and shallow breath, associated with stress induced breathing, when faced with challenging poses. This creates a stress response in the body, connected to our sympathetic nervous system, which results in increased tension. What we’re trying to achieve in yoga is a calm and relaxed body, breath and mind as a result of conscious use of the breath. This includes the inhalation, the exhalation and the momentary pause between breaths.
Different breathing techniques can have varying effects on the body as well. Deep belly, or diaphragmatic breathing, in Yin Yoga & Prenatal Yoga classes to help focus the mind and relax the body. Ujjayi pranayama when moving through strength building sequences to increase endurance and focus in a Power Flow class. Kapalabhati pranayama to intensify holding a pose and to strongly activate prana in the body in a Hot Yoga class.
Off the mat the use of the breath during a yoga practice can be translated into everyday life, with similar effect. When faced with a stressful situation the body’s natural reaction is to initiate our ‘fight or flight’ response, which results in shallow breathing and the tensing of muscles. In an emergency, such as moving away from danger, this is useful. On a regular basis this can have a damaging effect on the body.
Regular use of the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing initiate a ‘rest & digest’ response in the body, which “strengthens the respiratory system, soothes the nervous system and reduces cravings. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
How do you explore the breath? Join us on the mat to learn more about how pranayama can positively & profoundly affect you.
We’ll see you on the mat soon (until then join’s us via our online studio ~ www.kulayoga.com.au)
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