If you can breathe you can do yoga – and how lucky we are to practice!
The Western definition of breath is the air taken into or expelled from the lungs.
In yoga we have the term ‘prana’ which means lifeforce. Prana is much more than breath, it is energy. The ancient yogis advocated the practice of pranayama (sometimes translated as breath control) is to unite the breath with the mind.
Pranayama is the 4th limb or stage or the 8 limbs of yoga which was first written down over 2,000 years ago. It covers the journey of the student (we are all students) from beginner to experienced.
The importance of working with the breath in yoga cannot be overemphasized. Avoid holding your breath in poses, something that can happen in when you are in an unfamiliar or new situation. Just keep regulating your breathing throughout your practice. Unless your nose is blocked, inhale and exhale through your nostrils. You might notice that one nostril is more prominent, and it changes during the day
How to use the breath?
The effective way to breathe is to follow your instinct to inhale when you open the chest and to exhale when you compress your chest and abdomen. For instance, when you stretch your arms above your head, inhale. When you bend forward, exhale. While staying in a pose, just breathe normally.
Simple breathing techniques (Pranayama)
Pranayama can practiced laying down or sitting in a comfortable pose where the spine is upright. You might sit on a chair or roll up a blanket and place it under the spine and have a pillow under your head, so the head is higher than the chest and the chest is higher than the abdominal. If you are using a folded blanket the tailbone is on the floor not on the blanket.
At the beginning of your yoga practice / class it is a good idea to connect with yourself and with your breath.
Lie down and place your hands on your abdominal with the thumbs touching each other above the naval and the other four fingers below the naval. Observe the rhythmical rise and fall of your abdominal.
Then take your hands higher up to the sides of your ribcage, above your floating ribs. The ribcage expands sideways and upwards.
Experiment with moving your hands towards your shoulders. Allow the fingers to touch your collarbones. As you inhale allow the breath to travel from your abdominal to your thoracic area and then towards your shoulders. The inhalation expands the frontal torso. Exhale softly, from the top, and allow the breath to touch your back body.
Below are a couple of pranayama practices.
If you get dizzy at any time, please return to your normal breath.
Inhale for the count of 4 and exhale for the count of 4. Once you established this pattern try to lengthen your exhalation, try for the count of 5 or 6 or even longer. Extending the exhalation helps to calm the mind.
Square breathing technique 4:4:4:4
Pranayama recognizes the state of ‘no breath’ or holding the breath between inhalation and exhalation and vice versa. Try the following 4-square breathing technique.
Visualize a square in front of you. Inhale for the count of 4 on the left vertical side of the square. Hold your breath as you ‘move’ across the top side of the square. Exhale for 4 on the right side of the square. Hold your breath as ‘move’ across the bottom side of the square. Repeat this process 3+ times and return to your normal breathing.
Enjoy the practice!