Breath & Yoga
When you practice yoga, you would think that being able to get into all those poses is the most important part of the practice. Yes, the poses are important, but the foundation for being able to move the body into these beneficial positions starts with the breath.
Breath is the key to developing a holistic practice: a limber mobile body and a calm peaceful mind. Whether it's a quiet meditative session or a hot and sweaty power yoga class, your attention to breathing is very important. In yoga, the breath work is called Pranayama.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that combines two words together: "prana" and "ayama." Let's take a look at what these ancient words mean.
Prana is the "life force" or the energy that flows through every living thing. In you, Prana is represented by the breath: breath is your life source. "Ayama" is basically the action that you give to the breath. For example, you may breathe slowly or quickly. In some cases, you may hold the breath. Pranayama literally means breath control. When you give your attention to these breath exercises, like breathing in through the nose deeply and out through the mouth with a soft sigh, it keeps your focus on that particular action. You'll find that when you do these types of breathing actions, it's hard for the mind to think of anything else. Your attention is on your breath, on yourself. You begin to tune into the moment. You are more aware of your whole being. We are in a constant state of thinking about the past or worrying about the future. When you stop to take a few deep breaths, your mind is directed to the present. This is what we want to do in our yoga and meditative practices.
A typical Pranayama exercise that is performed in some moving yoga classes is called Ujjayi Pranayama. It means "victorious breath;" it is a way of bringing life and energy to your practice. To perform this style of breathing, you use the muscles of the throat to produce the effort of breathing in and breathing out. Here's a more descriptive explanation. Open your mouth wide and take a full breath in as if you are gasping for breath in slow motion. You may feel a coolness hit the back of your throat. Now, breathe out through the mouth as if you were fogging a mirror. Here, you may sense a warmth leave your mouth. In these actions, you are using the muscles of the throat to breathe. Now, continue breathing in this fashion, but do it with your mouth closed. Air will automatically pass through your nostrils, but you are still producing the breathing effort with your throat muscles. This is Ujjayi breathing. Try it!
There are many Pranayama breathing techniques; some are used in moving practices while others are used in meditative practices to help calm and soothe the mind and body. Not only does your breath work enhance your yoga practice, but it is also good for your circulation. Deep cleansing breaths help pump the blood more efficiently and thoroughly through your heart and veins. This can positively effect your heart rate and blood pressure. With good circulation, you are improving the health of your entire body. And best of all, the breath helps to relax your stressed mind and body.
So, it is vital to incorporate a good awareness and understanding of the breath in relation to your yoga practice. You will find that it improves your physical practice, your heart, and your mind.