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Pranayama – part I

Έγινε ενημέρωση: 22 Σεπ 2020

We breathe in, we breathe out.

Given the simplicity of this action, we think that breathing is the easiest thing to do in the world. Well, of course it is certain that all of you reading this are breathing, with no effort at all. However, when we decide to actually stop and think how this involuntary bodily experience has an immense impact on how we live our lives, it is quite a revelation. This involuntary action is regulated by the body’s central nervous system and if it was to be easy to understand, then probably we wouldn’t have so many unhappy and unhealthy people in the world. The way gases are exchanged (O2, CO2) while the air comes in and out, can tell about the state of our mind every single moment.   

There is going to be an attempt to explore answers into ‘silly’ questions like ”how do we breathe?” or ”how well do we breathe?” or ”why would I bother to listen to my breath?” ….like all involuntary actions we take it for granted…but further than that and while working as a yoga teacher, I have started to understand deeply that the way that one breathes indicates the state of his mind. The teachings of Yoga are so damn right. As a yoga teacher, listening to the quality of my students breath, can indicate up to a point the way I would proceed into yoga with the particular person. When I interact with people I can sense easier the agony or tension, the correct flow or big disturbance in one’s mind. As it turns out with much scientific research, deep breathing is not only relaxing but also affects the heart, the brain, the digestion, the immune system, even the expression of genes.  

Yoga Asana and Pranayama are techniques that help us learn and listen to our breath and with the correct guidance it will either energize us, it will relax us or it will just balance our systems. 

‘Truly, it is Life force (prana) that shines forth in all things! Understanding this, one becomes a knower.’ ~ Mundaka Upanishad

We need to understand what ‘Prana’ is initially. It is described as ‘life force’.. in other words, the pattern of energy through all living beings, the unique expression of what we are, the how and what of our being, it is what flows through ‘you’ that makes you ‘you’. We spend ‘prana’ in any daily activity (eating, talking etc.), so yoga helps to spend the proper amount of energy in everything we are doing. To spend prana wisely. When then this flow of energy becomes obstructed, problems will arise and they will manifest as physical or mental dis-ease. When prana is misused then surely we are not at ease….We need something to balance our systems out. Breath influences our prana (where the prefix ‘an’ is ‘to breathe’ in sanskrit) so in order to get our systems back into balance we use in yoga the adequate Pranayama (breathing techniques). In order to do our Pranayama right, the mind is highly involved. And with the following picture, the connection and relation of all three (prana, mind and breath) is perfectly illustrated.   

Prana + Ayama = to extend/to increase prana in the body. The meaning includes the extension of the breath, it is about increasing the intensity of prana. Now, according to the Yoga Sutras, a good indication of how the mind is involved so that the breath + prana are connected and in coordination, is when the breath becomes Dirgha (long)+ Suksma (subtle). In the same sutra, Patanjali gives significance in Kumbhaka (breath retention) which has to be increased, because when the breath is held, the nervous impulses change in different parts of the body and this affects the brain wave patterns. The gap between inhaling and exhaling is where the fluctuations of the mind stop and prana is retained in the body, hence it is not dispersed outside the body. This is how we maintain good health and we are in harmony with our nature.

So we have the 4 parts of the breath:

INHALE ~ Puraka or Abhyantara vrtti

EXHALE ~ Recaka or Bahya vrtti

PAUSE AFTER INHALE ~ Abhyantara Kumbhaka, Antar Kumbhaka


Therefore to start with our pranayama practice, let’s check the posture first….A comfortable sitting position, which enables sufficient breathing with an open chest and the spine erect. Then more emphasis is given to inhalation and exhalation, in order to strengthen the lungs and balance the nervous system, we get a rhythmic regulation which is beneficial for us and then in more advanced level we practice Kumbhaka.    

Role of the Inhale (Puraka) is to create and open the space for prana to circulate, the opening from the heart. The IN extends the spine upward. As the spine grows tall, one can feel a sense of expansion and growth from within wanting to show its magnitude and be revealed outside. The revelation manifests in the pause after the inhale.

Role of Exhale is to maintain the space that was created during inhale and remove all impurities. Lifting from the root, the EX draws the abdomen in & up and as the organs come back towards the central axis of the body during exhalation, the impurities leave the body yet all the good stuff remain. It is as if we want to be left within the goodness of the senses or the integrity of the posture and our body doesn’t collapse. Then there is the pause after exhalation…refreshed with all the goodness remained, we are ready to welcome another cycle (of breath).

Pranayama like asana, is a cautious practice. One has to pay attention to the bodily reactions and learn to recognise any negative reaction. We progress in stages, we listen to our teacher and our needs according to our mental/physical/psychic capacity. Panayama will put in place the supports we need in order to let go and receive the gifts of yoga as they arise.

I will come back at some point in part 2, exploring more the mechanism of the breath which is also fascinating. 

I take a nice deep inhale and a loooong exhale….I’m ready for a nice, deep sleep. Goodnight. EB:)


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