Swara Yoga – Pranayama
Pranayama comes from two root words – “Prana” meaning life force and “Yama” meaning control or “Ayama” meaning expansion.
Breath work simply brings the root of health or Prana (the force that keeps one alive) into awareness by learning the tools of control or retention i.e. slowing the rhythm of breath or expansion i.e. lengthening the exhale.
The seat of pranayama is to prepare the mind for meditation.
We will explore ten breathing cue’s (one every month) that everyone should include in his or her health toolbox.
There are three aspects of Pranayama – 1. Inhalation 2. Exhalation 3. Transitions between exhalation and inhalation & between the inhalation and exhalation.
There is a 4th aspect of Pranayama that we will explore later in the article.
The first cue is INHALE IS RECEPTIVE and EXHALE IS RESTORATIVE.
In pranayama, inhale is receptive. We receive the inhale as a gift from the universe.
Our body completes effort to exhale, diaphragm moves down, lungs expand, heart (in-between the lungs) finds space and air is expelled. Air flows from higher pressure to lower pressure. This can be explained by intrapulmonary volume increases and pressure decreases and air gets drawn back into the body. Body creates volume and pressure for inspiration to happen naturally based on effort exerted during exhalation.
In pranayama, exhale is restorative. We release the exhale into the universe for cleansing & patiently wait to invite the next inhale. This cycle repeats throughout our life.
When we are born we take our first breath after about 10 seconds of delivery. We receive our first inhale (receptive) and when we meet the final moment of this life, we complete our last exhale and rest (restorative). This pattern and cycle continues through our life between the inhale and the exhale.
There is transitions or pause in between the inhale and exhale and exhale and inhale. We need to practice retention of breath to experience the 4th aspect of pranayama. The retention on top of inhale and bottom of exhale is called “Kumbaka” or container or space that holds.
When we begin to observe the breath closely, we realize that the breath is a continuous wave without a beginning or an end. A single continuous wave like the ocean waves. This is the 4th aspect of pranayama. The universe is providing that gift to us. When (a) Breathe is deep, slow, rhythmic and quiet, you take that gift with conscious awareness (b) Exhale is longer than the inhale, your body works hard to release what is not serving you (toxins or waste) and universe is simply replenishing that with the sanctuary of the next inhale (c) The mind is anchored in the breath and the breath is in the body, universal flow is uninterrupted to heal, to rejuvenate the body. In that the ‘I am’ shifts and connects to that which is true and in the flow. I
A practice you can include in your toolbox in called “Ratio Breathing”, simple counts on inhale, lets say till 2 and lengthen the count while you exhale, lets begin with 4. You can do longer counts on exhale with practice or as comfortable 1:2, 2:4 , 4:8 and so on.
Ratio breathing will help reduce anxiety or stress, improve sleep and even improve your vocal cords/voice for singing.
A long walk, a nature hike, an open window or a seat next to a plant, finally a long exhale…this month practice slow, deep, rhythmic and quiet exhales everyday.
Note: This is written from personal experience of a yoga teacher and does not substitute for medical advice.
Mamta is a certified yoga instructor with formal training in therapeutic yoga, mindfulness, and silence for self-awareness, yin, sleep management and embodiment. She is currently a Yoga Therapist in training Level-1 and teaches yoga for healthy aging in Sonoma County and Corporate Yoga with Bay area companies. Mamta is a spoken word artist and writer of “happy quotes”. To practice pranayama or yoga for healthy aging, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org