There is a special place in yoga for Pranayama. Beginners or advanced yoga students must know how to control their breathing during their practice. Breathing synchronicity for practitioners is what has set yoga apart from other practices.
‘Praṇa’ – is the universal gift of energy. For each breath we take, we draw prana into our being. Everyone breathes, it is something we do automatically, without thinking about it. Most of us take it for granted and don’t consider just how important it is to us. Yoga teachers, on the other hand, understand pranayama is vital. They recognize its importance. They teach students to be aware of the way they breathe, further enhancing both physical and mental health.
“The control of breath expansion is pranayama.”
In addition to breath expansion and regulation in “Pranayama,” it is a vital part of asanas. Movements and poses in yoga are in harmony with our breathing, so we should understand this subject in greater detail.
When we inhale, air flows through our windpipe. Then, like the breaches of a tree, it splits off into the left and right bronchioles, which is the core passageway into our lungs.
The air flows into our windpipe as we breathe in through our nose. It further segregates itself like the branches of a tree into the left and right bronchi, the main passageway, into the lungs. From there it divides into the airways, where oxygen and air reach the lungs. The alveoli, or ‘air sacs’ then exchanges the oxygen and CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) around the bloodstream. When we inhale, our heart rate increases and so does the blood flow through the arteries into our lungs.
The diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle we have. It is dome-shaped and situated in the chest cavity (base of the throat) and powers our breathing. It helps to keep the organs in our chest separated from the stomach and sacral organs. There are two core muscles which support it, the psoas and the quadratus lumborum. Our breathing is supported by the diaphragm, which in turn is connected to our spine and lower rib cage. The lungs do not have their skeletal muscles, so this is where the diaphragm comes in useful.
Yoga: Conscious Breathing
Yoga teachers encourage conscious breathing. When we bend backward, stretch or prepare for a posture we inhale, when folding forward or sink into a posture, we exhale. We are taught that breathing and movement are synchronized. In reality, it is the central force behind yoga practice, as it enables us to connect to our internal energy. As we practice more, we come to realize that we can navigate our way through the multi-layers of consciousness through breath.
Connecting with prana enables us to focus ‘on the moment.’ We understand more clearly how to ‘let go’ and to stop worrying about the things we cannot change, but to appreciate the ‘now’ and look to the future.
Subconscious breathing uses a different part of the brain than conscious breathing. The primitive part of the brain or the medulla oblongata is used for our subconscious breathing when we are not practicing yoga. We don’t have to think about it. Conscious breathing, however, is controlled by the cerebral cortex, the evolved part of our brain.
Impulses from our cerebral cortex are stimulated and sent to the areas of the brain which impact our emotions. So, by using the more evolved section of our brain, it keeps us in balance because our mind is calm and our emotions are in check. Conscious breathing helps to gain awareness, a feeling of well-being, and tranquility to our lives. It enables us to deal with the day-to-day challenges from a place of strength within us.
The technique of breathing in yoga is known as pranayama. Its derivative is from two Sanskrit words, ‘Prana – breath/life force and Ayama – restraint/control.’ Control and coordination are vital in asanas. Pranayama is particular techniques which can be practiced outside of the yoga studio. The principle of prana is both physical and emotional blocks limit life force to flow through the body.
By practicing pranayama, it will help to shift these blows and allow prana and ayama to flow through us, bringing us a peaceful and healthy mind and body. Learning control techniques for inhaling and exhaling and breathing will also strengthen your respiratory organs.
The Positives of Breathing The Right Way
Controlling our subconscious breathing can empower us. We are able to monitor and neutralize our fear, anxiety, anger and moods through conscious yogic breathing. Yoga breathing practices can also help in weight loss. Breathing deeply in a controlled way encourages oxidation which aids the burning of fat cells. Our metabolism is triggered by yogic breathing, releasing hormones from the thyroid gland and speeding up our metabolic rate.
It has been shown that there is a correlation between long-life and breathing rate. Those people who take a higher number of breaths per minute and have a greater respiratory rate are said to have shorter life spans. Buddhist monks and ancient scriptures have said that when we are born, we are given a set number of breaths, which dictates how long you live. So, practicing pranayama, controlled conscious breathing – long deep breaths – regularly, could increase your life span.
Slow, rhythmic breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which for humans means a slower heart rate, relaxed muscles, better brain functionality and a calm mind.
The consciousness of breath is without a doubt the primary connection with ourselves. By practicing yoga, we can master self-control. The breathing techniques ‘pranayama’ in yoga enable us to take control of us and our lives, to help us react in a calm way to those awful surprises which life can throw at us.
The Definition of Ujjayi Breathing
Ashtanga yoga is fixated on breathing. Not a single movement is completed in Ashtanga unless there is matching inhaling and exhaling which is executed with precision an exact count. Every posture educates the practitioner on how breath passes through the body, discovering grace and power with its use. Each pose is measured, not just with a stopwatch or through music, but through our breathing. When leading a class, each breath is counted by the yoga instructor. From our very first ‘ekam’ inhale, we are taught this simple act. So, why then does this attract a significant amount of attention?
The Winning Breath
What is the meaning of Ujjayi Breathing? It is a technique which has many names and is used to access connection. Ujjayi is the more recognized name, but another is ‘Victorious’ (do not confuse this with the formalized exercise of breathing ujjayi pranayama). It has been described by Western teachers as ‘Ocean’s Breath’ because of its wave-like sound. Sharath Jois, the son of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga’s guru has in more recent years described it as “breathing with sound.” No matter which word you prefer, it is a fundamental part of the practice (asana) of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
How to cultivate Ujjayi Breathing.
- Inhale deeply
- Exhale slowly out through your mouth
making an “Hhhhaaaa” sound as you exhale.
- Repeat this process a few times more and then gently close your lips, but cultivating the ‘hhhhaaa’ sound while breathing through your nose. It will result in the sound of waves crashing on the shore over and over.
You must make a note of the quality of your ‘Ocean’s Breath’ breathing. Balancing things is important. The length of your inhaling and exhaling should be equal. You are aiming for a breath which is full, but not one that is strained, so you must find a balance. Your state of mind, as well as your breath, should be intertwined without question. Attain the steadiness in your breath that you are trying to achieve for your mind.
Practice Makes Perfect Sense
Just like everything else in yoga, your breathing will advance in time with practice. During the weeks, months, years, you will continue to develop and improve your relationship with ujjayi breath. All you need to do is pay attention.
As you transition through each asana, make a note of the way your breath works in your body. As you become more aware of your body locks ‘bandhas’, watch and learn how they work in conjunction with your breath. Be aware of the feeling the first time you step on the mat, and take your first focused breath, how it centers you, and remember to go back to it when your mind feels cluttered. Feel that rising heat your conscious breathing produces from your insides to the outside. Notice how the waves of your breathing alter in their quality as you practice movements, speeding up and then slowing down with each phase.
Become close friends or fall in love with ujjayi breathing, and form a recurring respiration relationship. In no time at all, you will be obsessed with Ashtanga Yoga pranayama.