Pranayama is the science of breathing in yoga. Prana means “life force” and yama means “to control”. Thus, pranayama allows you to control your life force! In yoga, breathing exercises are used to prepare the body for meditation and to increase energy.
Yoga understands that the breath connects the body and the mind; the breath is the physical manifestation of the mind. While we cannot easily force our minds to calm down, we can easily calm our breath, which then automatically calms the mind down.
Generally, in pranayama, you breathe through the nose and keep your mouth gently closed. Practice once or twice a day at about the same time. Also, practice before meals and use the restroom before sitting down. In addition, you will want to find a quiet and pleasant place and combine pranayama with yoga postures to reinforce your practice.
How to Position the Body
Sit with your head, neck, and trunk straight. You can sit in a chair, cushion, folded blanket, or on the floor. Whether on the floor or in a chair, tuck a thin pillow or the edge of a folded blanket just under the buttocks so you can tilt your pelvis forward and easily straighten your spine.
Let your hands rest on your knees. The palms of your hands can lie face up or down. There are even hand mudras to use, which can increase the benefits such as the Gyan Mudra which channels knowledge and a sense of groundedness. To perform the Gyan Mudra during pranayama exercises, connect the thumb and the forefinger, placing palms upward and resting hands on knees (see picture below).
Shaping the Breath
In pranayama, we practice diaphragmatic breathing. Also called Belly Breathing, this is the correct way of breathing because it allows for the full process of oxygenation so that your blood receives sufficient oxygen, and as a result, energy. When we breathe shallowly, we feel tired and unmotivated. Diaphragmatic breathing also calms the nervous system and massages and stimulates the heart and all organs of digestion and elimination.
Scan the Breath
To start, we begin by first scanning the breath. You can put your hand on your stomach area (diaphragm). This is good in the beginning to check if you are breathing into your belly area. Breathe low and deep to increase oxygen intake, which signals to your body to calm down. Identify the breath irregularities below:
2.Interruptions in the flow of breath
3. Noisy breathing
4. Extended pauses
5. Breathing through the mouth
What do I do after scanning the breath?
Next, you will want to begin increasing the breath length:
Try inhaling 2 seconds in your belly-diaphragm area, then 2 seconds into your chest. Then reverse the order: exhale 2 seconds from your chest, and continue exhaling 2 seconds, pushing the last area out of your diaphragm. Increase the seconds gradually. The goal is to achieve a 10-second breath!
Repeat Mantra “So-Hum”
Once you have begun to lengthen the breath, you can silently listen to the mantra “So-Hum”(I am Divine Reality). On the inhalation, hear “So” and on the exhalation hear “Hum”. Continue for 10 minutes to start. You can increase up to 30 minutes if you wish.
Follow up these breathing exercises with meditation. Enjoy increased energy and mind-body-spirit connection!