Pranayama is the yogic practice of breathwork. It is the fourth limb in Hatha Yoga’s eight-limbed path that we have been covering this week. Earlier this week, we covered the third step (physical postures), as well as the sixth and seventh steps (concentration and meditation). Today, we will explore this fourth step of pranayama.
“Prana” means breath, and “yama” means control, so pranayama loosely translates to “control of the breath.” More specifically, Prana is a subtle energy that is carried through the breath and it is considered a life-force or life-giving energy. The breath is a conduit or gateway between the mind, body and spirit. When we manipulate the breath and prana in systematic ways as outlined in the classic yoga texts, we train our body to experience different energy levels. We can cultivate greater relaxation in our body simply through our breath. Alternatively, we can increase our energy through a different set of breath practices. How does this all work?
Well, we breathe all day long without even thinking about; that is because the breath is regulated by our central nervous system. We also have the ability to consciously manipulate our breath. For example, when we hold our breath as we dive into water, we consciously retain our breath while underwater. Similarly, yoga has outlined a systematic series of practices to manipulate the breath to achieve different states of energy within our body. These breath practices have a direct response on our nervous system. As an example, inhalation is related to the sympathetic nervous system which is the fight-or-flight response; this is where many of us live when we are caught up in the busyness of day-to-day life. Exhalation is related to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest part of our nervous system that tells us we are safe and it is okay to relax. So, we can begin a breath practice by just observing the breath and then making one simple adjustment of extending our exhale to be slightly longer than the inhale. When we do this, we are essentially telling our nervous system that it is okay to let go of the stress, relax, and be here in the present moment.
In our weekly meditation and breathwork classes, we practice these specific yoga breathing patterns, allowing ourselves to experience their effects directly on our body. I invite you to join us on Wednesdays and Fridays so that you can experience this yourself! If you would like to dive even deeper into this topic through a live webinar, let me know by liking this blog, leaving a comment below, or sending me a message!