Pranayama...the life force, your breath.

This week we are focusing on another of the 8 limbs, this time its Pranayama that is in the spotlight. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word alternatively translated as "extension of the prāṇa (breath or life force)" or "breath control."

The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force (noted particularly as the breath), and either ayama (to restrain or control the prana, implying a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered in order to produce specific results) or the negative form ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out (as in extension of the life force). It is a yogic discipline with origins in ancient India.

Several researchers have reported that pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders. I've always been a strong believer that if you can breathe, then you can do yoga and this limb of yoga proves just that.

There are many types of breathing practices that you can undertake. Commonly when we practice the Ashtanga Sequence (more on that in the coming weeks) we engage our Ujjayi Breath or our victorious breath. When practicing Ujjayi, you completely fill your lungs, while slightly contracting your pharynx (the muscle at the back of the throat you use to whisper), seal your lips and breathe through your nose. This allows the breath to swirl at the back of your throat and create a nice calming sound as well as create heat in the body.

Maintaining a steady, rhythmic breath is the single most important part of your yoga practice. By controlling your breath, you calm your mind and bring awareness to the present moment. This awareness is the heart of yoga.

In yoga, it is believed that by consciously practicing breath control exercises, you can bring positive changes to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Unlike other pranayamas that are practiced while seated or lying down, Ujjayi is performed throughout the practice in every pose. The steadiness, sound, and depth of the Ujjayi breath help to link your mind, body, and spirit to the present moment. This unification adds richness and depth to your practice.

Regularly practicing Ujjayi breath during your time on the mat can help you release pent-up emotions. The extra oxygen and deep exhalations invigorate and strengthen your physical practice. Give it a try or have a google around and try one of the following

Lion's breath

Bee breath

Nadi Shodhana

Tune in next week for the next instalment of my blog looking at Pratyahara.

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