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PRANAYAMA -

extension of breath

 

Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the more physical, active practices of yoga—asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation. Patañjali describes how it keeps the mind calm, and that we can control the movement of prana, which we experience as our breathing.

 

1.34 Pracchardanavidharanabhyam va pranasya (Pracchardana: exhale, expulsion; vidharana: retention; abhyam: by these two; va: or; pranasya: of the breath) Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.  More Patanjali on Pranayama

 

The practice of pranayama develops a steady mind, strong will-power and sound judgement. - B.K.S. Iyengar. 

 

By regulating the prana, we regulate our minds. When the breath is calm, the mind, chitta, is also calm. Chitta and prana are in constant association. Where there is chitta there prana is focussed, and where prana is there chitta focussed. 

 

Breathing varies considerably depending on the persons physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual condition. It is compromised by depression, anxiety, tight or week respiratory muscles, distraction, lethargy, or flighty energy. Yoga points towards the fact that the reason for imbalance in our lives is often due to poor breathing. If we observe carefully we find two types of a irregular breathing : 

 

  • SHALLOW BREATHING Whenever we feel low or depressed the breath is slow and shallow. Therefore the intake of air is much less.

  • RAPID BREATHING When stressed, angry or in a fit of rage if we observed the breath it would be evident that it is rapid in short gasps.

 

Under these conditions, the breath is typically inefficient, and over relies on secondary respiratory muscles rather than the diaphragm. Irregular breathing is not our natural breath, but it has become normal in almost everyone who has not been taught the value of their breath. Both these patterns of breathing cause an imbalance of prana. The life energy does not flow smoothly and therefore manifests outwardly in physical mental unwellness. How fully and deeply we breathe is determined by how we breathe, which typically is more habitual than conscious. In ‘normal breathing’ there is relatively little volume, compared to our respiratory capacity. Anyone can benefit from practising pranayama to retain control over the breath and balance the flow of life energy. 

 

A deep breath is often misinterpreted ‘and done through an open mouth while activating the upper chest. Such breathing is both big and shallow, but not deep. A deep breath is to move down into the full depth of the lungs. It also means using the main breathing muscle, the diaphragm.’ -  Patrick Mckeown

 

RESPIRATORY 

system

In order to have a clear picture of how pranayama benefits the body, it's essential to have some idea of the respiratory system.

 

Pranayama makes the respiratory system functions at its best. This automatically improves the circulatory system, without which the process of digestion and elimination would suffer. Toxins would accumulate, diseases spread through the body and ill health becomes habitual.’ - B.K.S. Iyengar 

 

The most vital function, respiration is essential for sustaining life. During most of our life, the depth and rate of breathing are self regulated through the nervous system to meet the purposes of breathing

- To supply in a regulated and controlled way fresh oxygen which is constantly needed by the cells. 

- To discharge the carbon dioxide accumulated in the cells. 

 

In the respiratory process, oxygen is delivered to cells via arterial blood from the lungs and heart, while carbon dioxide is returned to the heart and lungs as deoxygenated venous blood. Capillary membranes in the lungs called alveoli exchange these gases. This exchange, which we experience as breathing, happens about 12 to 15 times per minute, or around 20 000 times per day, with variations in rate depending on the health of the person’s system, activity and emotional levels, and other factors. 

 

The mechanics of this exchange were long misunderstood as resulting from the pumping actions of the heart and lungs. While the heart and lungs are essential in the respiratory process, they are in physiological service to the breath, not the physiological source of the breath. When more space is made available in the lungs by the expansion of the thorax, the weight of the atmosphere forces air in  through the trachea to fill the expanded space.

There are two basic types of breathing that involve different ways of moving the lungs:

 

  • DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING (belly breathing) The belly expands with inhalation and contracts with exhalation. 

  • COSTAL BREATHING (rib breathing) The rib cage opens with the inhalation and closes with exhalation.

 

The tendency is for the rib cage to expand either front to back or laterally, rather than mobilising the ribs in both directions and thereby expanding breath capacity. Asana practice is an effective tool for developing the mobility of the rib cage in support of balanced breathing.

The lungs are enveloped in a two-layer pleural membrane that adheres to the ribs and diaphragm, allowing movement and supporting the lungs in place. Air moves in and out of the lungs through a system of airway passages, starting with the nose or mouth. 

nose VS mouth

One of the first lessons in the Yogi Science of Breath is to learn to breath through the nostrils, and to overcome the common practice of mouth breathing. - Yogi Ramacharaka

 

THE NOSE 

  • Imposes aproximately 50% more resistance to the air stream in normal individuals than does mouth breathing, resulting in 10 - 20% more oxygen uptake.

  • Warms and humidifies incoming air. ( Air entering the nose at 6°C will be warmed to 30°C by the time it hits the back of the throat, and a cosy 37°C (body temp) upon reaching its final destination - the lungs)  

  • Filters air, conditioning, purifying, removing a certain amount of germs and bacteria from the air breathed in. 

  • The nose is a reservoir for nitric oxide, an essential gas for the maintenance of good health.

  • Nerves in the nose allow subtle sensitivity to the flow of breath considerably more so than air flowing through the mouth. 

 

True health and inner peace occurs when breathing is quiet, effortless, soft, through the nose, abdominal, rhythmic and gently paused on the exhale. This is how human beings naturally breathed until modern life changed everything. - Patrick Mckeown

 

THE MOUTH 

  • Mouth breathing children are at greater risk of developing head forward posture and reduced respiratory strength. 

  • Contributes to general dehydration (mouth breathing through sleep results in waking with a dry mouth)

  • Dry mouth increases the acidification of the mouth - more dental cavities and gum disease. 

  • Bad breath due to altered bacterial flora. 

  • Increase the number of occurrences of snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea.

BREATHING muscles

 

The ability to breathe more deeply, steadily, and calmly — and to more consciously move energy throughout the body — can be developed through practices that make the skeletal and muscular components of breathing stronger and more limber.

 

The movements of the rib cage are blended with the positioning and movement of the pelvis, legs and shoulders. (myofascial meridians the  deep front line and arm lines.)

 

The diaphragm and the muscles acting on the rib cage do the primary work of respiration. As the diaphragm contacts, it flattens and draws down, displacing the soft contents of the abdomen. Lung volume increases, reducing air pressure in the lungs, drawing air in from the  outside. As the diaphragm relaxes, it moves up as the lungs natural elasticity pushes air out. - A complete in a cycle of breath. 

Muscles acting on the rib cage, particularly the intercostal muscles between the ribs assist the diaphragm. The pectoralis minor lifts the ribs forward, opening space in the upper chest allowing breath to more easily fill the upper lungs. The sternocleidomastoid and scalene muscles also raise the upper rib cage contributing to breathing into the upper regions of the lungs,. The pectoralis major spreads the lower ribs and lifts the sternum creating a more spacious inhalation that is lower in the lungs. The serratus anterior helps maintain posture of the ribs and assists exhalation, serratus posterior spreads the back ribs and eases breath into the back of the lungs. Intercostal muscles also aid exhalation by drawing the ribs closer together and compressing the lungs. Lung volume is further reduced by contracting the abdominal muscles; transversus abdominis, girdles the waist,  the obliques lower the ribs and compress the abdomen and rectus abdominis further closes the front abdomen by drawing the pubis and sternum toward each other. Pelvic floor muscles provide an adaptable foundation that withstands the pressure from above while initiating the active lifting of the core abdominal muscles with complete exhalations, actions that are closely related to mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. 

 

pranayama

PRACTICE

 

The ancient sages also taught that prana, vital life force, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises which benefits the participant by ;

  • Increasing prana flow through the subtle nadis.

  • Conversion of this subtle energy into vital energy of the physical dimension through the functioning of the chakras, which connect the subtle nadis with the physical body. 

  • Increased circulation of this energy through the blood vessels, nerves, and meridians.

  • Absorption of prana into the subtle (astral) body through the visualisation of the process. (Eventually, when the more advanced techniques have been mastered, the control of our internal energies can be achieved by thoughts alone.)

Patanjali describes, after mastering the posture, we can practice the control of prana by controlling the breath. Our breathing being slow, gentle and fully controlled without any agitation.

 

2.49 Tamsin sati shvasa-prashvasayor gati-vicchedah pranayamah. (Tasmin sati: upon that being acquired; prana-ayama: controlling the breath; viccheda: separating; gati: movement; shvasa: inhalation; pra-shvasa: exhalation.) That (firm posture) being ackquired, the movements of inhalation and exhalation should be controlled - this is pranayama.

 

According to Patanjali there are three types of pranayama. Modern science recognises the same phases of breathing : the bahya vritti, abhyantara vritti and stambha vritti, inhaling, exhaling and retention — the succession of breathing, which occurs naturally after each inhalation and exhalation. Patanjali also describes variations on these pranayamas according to desa, kala and samkhya, or place, time and count. Each of these qualities can be voluntarily affected, giving us the foundation for pranayama practices.

 

2.50 Bahyabhyantara-stambha-vrittir desha-kala-sankhyabhih paridrishto dirgha-sukshmah. (Bahya: external; abhyantara: internal; stambha: stoppage; vritti: modification; paridrishta: is observed; desa: place, space; kala: time; sankhya: number; dirgha: long; sukshma: short,subtle.) The modifications of the life- breath are either external, internal or stationary. They are to be regulated by space, time and number and are either long or short. 

 

We can also explore the volume, rate, sound, intensity, areas of relative physical movement or holding, and degree of passivity or activity can vary; the unique combination of these qualities gives us our experience of breathing.

 

With practice, breath becomes long – the lengths of the out-breath and the pausing and stoppage become long, and subtle – the observance moves from the gross movement of the breath to the subtle presence of this life-force called prana. - A.K Aruna

 

TEACHING

pranayama 

 

Motivate and guide your students to breathe consciously and feel themselves more subtly through the breath. Blending pranayama practices with asana classes however will take your students even further along the path of living more consciously.

 

Instead of assuming that student share a common baseline quality of breath, it is better to go to pranayama practice is starting with the natural conditions of each individual student and build from that initial foundation. This starts with guiding students in developing basic breath awareness.

 

Learning to breathe well is not an additive process in which you learn specific techniques for improving the breath you already have, it is the process of deconstruction where you learn to identify the things you are already doing that restrict the natural emergence of the breath. - Donna Fahri  

 

BREATH AWARENESS 

 

Explore:

 

- Inhaling

- Filled with breath

- Exhaling

- Empty of breath

 

Encourage students to be receptive to the breath rather than grasping for it. With practice, the breath is received delicately yet fully, steadily yet easily, causing as little disturbance as possible to the body – mind.

 

With this baseline of breath awareness, you can teach students how to develop and refine their breathing more subtly, helping them to discover how to cultivate sthirra sukham asanam more easily while breathing in a variety of different ways. This starts by guiding students into feeling the contraction and release of their respiratory muscles and their related movements in their body with two types of inhalation and exhalation as follows.

 

PURAKA : The Inhalation 

- Diaphragmatic inhalation

- Costal inhalation

 

 

RECHAKA : The Exhalation

- Abdominal exhalation - 

-  Costal exhalation- 

 

Use these basic inhalation and exhalation practices in your regular classes to help students develop the balance and integrity of their  breathing. Most students will initially find the inhalations and exhalations differing in pace, texture, sound, intensity, and duration. With practice, puraka and rechaka come into balance and form the foundation for all other pranayama practices. 

 

The commonly used practice of taking big breaths is based on the misconception that taking in more air will increase the oxygen levels of the blood. However since arterial blood is already almost saturated with oxygen (between 95% and 99%) during normal breathing, ‘big’ breathing is rendered totally unnecessary... Authentic teachers are not trying to add anything new. Instead, they are helping counteract the negative effects imposed on breathing...Authentic professional yoga practitioners will have developed a high tolerance to carbon dioxide through their practice - sometimes to the point to be able to sustain one calm breath per minute for a whole hour. This impressive breathing efficiency implies quiet, gentle breathing. - Patrick Mckeown

 
 

the

TECHNIQUES

Take your time and develop the practice gradually. Learn to listen to the needs of your body it will always tell you when you are doing something wrong.

 

UJJAYI PRANAYAMA - Victorious Breath

KAPALABHATI - Skull Shining Breath

 

NADI SHODANA - Alternate Nostril Breathing 

BRAHMARI - Humming Breath

SITALI PRANAYAMA - Cooling Breath

KUMBHAKA - Breath Retention

 
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