This site is for learning and sharing about Yoga. Topics include teaching, asana, meditation and a nurturing forum for questions about your Yoga practice.

Pranayama (Proper Breathing/Exercises)

Breath is life. It is one of our most vital functions.

The word Pranayama consists of two parts: Prana and Ayama. Ayama means stretch, extension, expansion, length, breath, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control, describing the action of Pranayama. Prana is energy, the self-energizing force that embraces the body. Pranayama is when this self-energizing force embraces the body with extension, expansion and control.

Prana, the life force or vital energy, is the center of all Yoga Practices. Prana is in matter, but is not in the matter. It is in the air, but it is not in oxygen. It is a subtle form of energy carried by the air, food, water and sunlight, and animates all forms of matter. Through the practice of yoga postures and breathing, more Prana is taken in and stored in the body bringing great vitality and strength.

Yogis believe that the breath and the mind are interdependent entities. That is, if one’s breath is under control, then so is his mind. Our state of mind is very important because our emotions, reactions, and everything else that is needed to live a productive life depends on it. The practice of Pranayama partly aims to bring the mind to a state of peace, which is essential to living a good life.

Long Deep Breathing
A great way to relax, and also very good for any lung-related problems.

Long Deep Breathing is usually taught first because one can become aware of the full distention and contraction of the diaphragm, after which the Breath of Fire may come more naturally.

Sitting cross-legged (or even in savasana pose), in long deep breathing one will first fill the abdominal area by inhaling the air down, then pressing the air consciously into the lower areas. By arching somewhat forward with ones palms on the knees, then with arms straight pressing the palms inward towards the lower body against the knees, the chest cavity will open forwards, so that you can not only keep the pressure on the lungs in the lower abdominal area, but also feel the lungs filling in and through the chest area and, finally, because of the forward arch of the spine the upper area of the lungs will fill as well, all without the need to either open the rib cage or raise the shoulders.

Once the lungs are completely filled in this manner, hold the breath lightly for a moment and press the shoulders back and expand the chest out so that the full length and pressure on the diaphragm can be felt.

Then contract the entire length of the diaphragm from the upper chest to the abdomen, so that all the air is squeezed out.

By breathing in this way through the nostrils for several breaths, the flow of energy consciousness (the feeling of prana) through the diaphragm can be felt from the pressing down and distending of the air into the lower region of the lungs, where most of the blood circulates, then filling through and up to the chest areas from the back to the front and into the upper lungs.

The pressure in the lungs in all areas of the lungs also generates energy in all the nerve endings, so that the entire body is effected both by the breath and the pressure on the nerves.

Once the Long Deep Breathing is done in the manner described, the focus on the muscles of the abdomen, chest and shoulder areas as being involved in the breathing begins to recede, as the natural bellows like motion of the entire diaphragm is felt.

Breath of Fire (Agni-Prasana)
A cleansing & energizing breath, powered by abdominal contractions

Once the diaphragm is felt during Long Deep Breathing then there are a couple of ways in which one can begin to do Breath of Fire, where the air is pulled in and pumped out very rhythmically, just like pumping a bellows, without any tension being felt whatsoever on the abdominal muscles, chest and rib cage muscles or shoulders, which remain relaxes throughout the breath, so that it may almost seem that you can continue the rhythm indefinitely with little effort at all.

One way to start Breath of Fire, is to start with long deep breathing, then as soon as the lungs are completely expanded, as described earlier, to immediately force the air out, and as soon as most of the air is out to immediately expand the air back in, each time arching the spine forwards and pressing the palms inward against the knees in a light manner to feel the diaphragm filling the lungs from the back to the front completely, then contracting again.

With each breath one expands a bit faster and contracts a bit faster until without expanding or contracting completely, a rhythm is felt, and you let that rhythm take over.

You might liken it to an old model locomotive where the wheels lurch forwards until some steam and speed is built up, then suddenly the train is moving forward almost effortlessly, with each breath like the chugging sound of the locomotive.

The other way to get into the rhythm of the Breath of Fire for some, may be to immediately go to a powerful rhythmic breath, just by visualizing the bellows like nature of the diaphragm.

Either way, from that point on you can make the Breath of Fire very powerful or very light.

The Breath of Fire is not the same as Bastrika, which is a light fast rhythmic breath, usually taught as one of the pranayamas in hatha yoga.

A great way to cool down when hot, aggravated, or irritable.

Kabalabati is a forceful breath, where you contract the abdomen and rib cage (pulling on the root lock with each contacting breath), where the simple relaxing of the rib cage brings the air back into the lungs, without inhaling, and you force the air out again (also in a rhythmic manner).

Take the inbreath through the mouth in the shape of an “o” with curled tongue and then exhale through the nostrils. (All other styles are all nostril.)

While Kapalabati is very powerful and beneficial, and while it is used in many Kriyas, it is not the same as Breath of Fire.

Alternate Nostril Breathing
A great way to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and subtle nadi pathways.

The alternate nostril breathing is taught after the above techniques. After doing the first breathing exercise a few times, raise one of your hands to your face, palm facing it. If right handed, put your thumb by right nostril and your ring finger by the left. Gently press your thumb over the right nostril, blocking the passage of air through it. Breathe in the left nostril first, slowly. Hold the inbreath for a second…concentrating on the stillness….then place ring finger to close over left nostril, remove thumb and exhale out the right nostril. Pause a second, inhale through right, press thumb to close right, lift ring finger from left, and exhale out left. Repeat 8 sets. You should feel this breathing calming you yet energizing your chakras.


1 Comment»

  Veronica O’Grady wrote @

This page is Life-changing…thank you!!!

With Gratitude and Joyful Reverence,
~Veronica O’Grady

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