The Fourth Limb of Yoga: Pranayama

What Is It?

Pranayama refers to the vast array of breathing techniques taught throughout yoga. In Sanskrit, Prana means ‘energy’ or ‘life source’, it can refer to the breath as the very action that keeps us alive, or, to the energy in the universe around us.

Pranayama

Interestingly, we can read Pranayama in two different ways, the first being prana-yama which would translate to ‘breath – control’ or ‘breath restraint’. Or, we could read it as prana-ayama which would mean ‘freedom of breath’, ‘breath expansion’ or ‘breath liberation’. 

In yoga classes, we utilise breathing exercises because their effects on our mind and body are resounding. Our breath controls our energy flow and our minds, but whether we see these breathing techniques as an act of freedom or controlling is up to our perception and our desired result.

What are the Effects?

It should come as no surprise that our breath and breathing have monumental effects on our brain and body. Think of any stressful situation, have you ever noticed your change in breathing - shallow and sharp?

Benefits of Pranayama infographic

Maybe you're not prone to panic attacks, but undoubtedly you've seen a movie scene centered around a characters 'freak-out'. What's the one thing that everybody around them knows will help them?

Breathing deeply.

When we control our breath - long, deep and steady - we are sending signals to our nervous system and subconscious that we are okay, there's no danger and we can relax.

It's our subconscious which is in control of every minute action within our body without us even having to think about it. Intestines contract and release to send food into our stomach, our lungs inflate drawing air into our blood and deflate expelling our body's bi-product CO2, all without us consciously contributing one iota of effort.

Every breath we take is providing waves of fresh oxygen into our body and brain. Which, when we think about our brain using 20% of any one breath's oxygen and 20% of our blood, just to stay conscious, it becomes incredibly important we offer our brain the best we can give it. 

The essence of Pranayama is to control the oxygen source of our mind and body. Through the techniques of Pranayama we are learning to control our mind, and the greater implications our mind has on our body. 

When we learn to calm our minds we can see life and self more clearly, our intentions can shine through and we can blossom into our truest self. Yoga is a journey and this is one step on the path to a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. 

Top Five Pranayama Techniques

We'll spend some more time diving into the depths of these techniques and more in another blog in the near future. For now, here are our favourite five Pranayama techniques.

  1. Ujjayi Breathing - Warming breath to create heat. 
  2. Nadi Shodhana - Alternate nostril breathing helps calm the mind.
  3. Kapalabhati - Skull Shining emphasises strong exhalation, known for it's cleansing effect on the breathing pathways.
  4. Samavritti - AKA Square Breath, all four parts of the breath are healed for equal amounts of time to create awareness of breath, prana flow and concentration. 
  5. Bhramari - Uses sound and breath to calm the mind and nervous system                     

These techniques are so simple and so effective! Oh, the beauty of yoga, don't you just love it. 

How to Practice Pranayama in Daily Life

Pranayama is without a doubt the most accessible limb of yoga. You can reap the benefits of mindfulness, self-awareness and health just by taking a little bit of time to change up the way you perform the most basic life-affirming action, breathing.  

Pranayama 2

You can practice in the studio, at home, on the toilet, while cooking, on the way to work, at work, while stuck in traffic, while drifting off to sleep, when you're watching TV. The options are endless, because, well, breathing is endless (yay)!

For tips on how to integrate Pranayama, we suggest you take some time to experiment with a couple of the techniques we've listed. You should ask your teacher for advise, and then find a moment of quite to centre your-self.  

The ritual of rolling out your mat and sitting in a comfortable and sustainable lotus pose will help you gather your thoughts and prepare your body. After you've made yourself comfortable in a quite place, just play!

Have fun, experiment with the different techniques try them out at different speed and intensity, to get comfortable with the sensations created. Then settle into each one for a solid 3-5min, really dive into the breath and relax. 

Before you know it you'll be feeling calm and centred, relaxed and self-aware. 

This winter at Salt Power Yoga, we're exploring Pranayama techniques which warm us from the inside out. The techniques are great arsenal to have through out daily winter life. They might even make getting out of bed on a winter Monday morning tolerable.