Breathing is an essential aspect of yoga and ayurveda that takes into account the body as well as the mind and spirit. As we learn to deepen and slow down our breathing habits, our lung capacity extends, oxygen levels increase and all of our systems benefit. Through the breath, we take in what we need and release what no longer serves us. But this nourishment doesn’t just exist on a physical level. The unseen energy of the breath flows into, out of and within the body and is transmitted to every molecule to align and balance us physically, mentally and spiritually.
For many, breathing is not addressed in a typical yoga class. If you are fortunate, you may find a teacher that generates an awareness of the breath for you. Breath awareness is best felt when the body is relaxed and still. Breathing practices give our minds’ focus – you virtually “tune in” when you pay attention to your breath. This can occur whether you resting or doing something more active.
I began the practice specifically for its physical benefits some 30 years ago but along the way have discovered how beneficial it can be at a deep energetic layer.
Yoga’s subtle energetic system can be explained as the mind-body connection and dates back further than the yoga poses themselves. Yoga and Ayurveda define this energy as life force or Prana.
Prana is the energy that flows through us. Although it is not physiologically documented, prana is known to be carried into and out of the body through the breath. So, prana flows as oxygen does, fueling our bodies with essential energy to create balance.
Prana is conducted through our subtle system via energy channels called nadis. There are believed to be some 70,000 nadis or channels located throughout the subtle body. At specific points of the body, these nadis converge and energy is collected in centers called chakras. You may have heard of the chakras.
Chakras are specific hubs or spinning wheels located along the axis of the spine – each one a concentrated field of prana that has specific characteristics. There are 7 chakra sites. They begin at the base of the spine and stack up to the crown of the head. Although they are usually depicted as colored circles that line up along an image of the spine, like prana, chakras are not physiologically evident. However, there are specific elements, emotions, sounds, colors and smells attributed to each chakra.
Our chakras direct the flow of prana to all of the body systems and, more importantly, allow our energetic flow to connect us with the energy of the universe. I often refer to this quote when I teach the concept of prana, it’s from the spiritual teacher, Swami Rudrananda (who is simply known as Rudi):
“Feel the life force flowing from you and drawing into you from the atmosphere: from the rain, from the air around you and the sky above you and the stars and the moon and the sun, and everything that exists that represents energy.“
All real healing is based on Prana – the life force energy – and the amount we can keep flowing in a balanced way.
Pranayama is the regulation of the movement or flow of the life force. The word pranayama literally means “energy control.” Pranayama is made up of a range of techniques that begin with simple awareness and continue on with more intensive control approaches. Technically, pranayama is part of the entire system called yoga. As a side note, in its design, yoga is made up of eight parts – three of which are asana (the poses), pranayama and meditation. The ancient texts describe asana and pranayama as preparation for meditation.
Although pranayama is an integral part of yoga, the practice is not generally taught until a student is comfortable resting with their breath in either a supine or seated position. In this way, a student learns to relax completely in order to receive the breath. We can then learn to regulate our life force or prana when we begin to manipulate the breath and direct it in some manner.
Proper breathing is paramount to controlling the senses and the mind. I was taught that pranayama is the best link between yoga and Ayurveda because it has the ability to balance the doshas, aid in rejuvenation, promote longevity and increase awareness. Pranayama can also remove ama through its actions of increased energy circulation (and I explained the concept of ama and how its accumulation can lead to dis-ease in this blog post).
B.K.S Iyengar (who is considered one of the foremost yoga gurus in the world) defined Pranayama or breath control as:
“… techniques to make the respiratory organs move and expand intentionally, rhythmically and intensively. It consists of long, sustained subtle flow of inhalation, exhalation and retention of breath.”
In this week’s On Wellness Way podcast I will cover the four main stages of the art of breathing:
- Creating breath awareness
- Opening the body for the breath
- Balancing the breath
- Elongating the breath
Also on the podcast, I have provided a guided pranayama practice for you – here’s the link: https://anchor.fm/kimberly-luyckx
Just knowing and creating awareness of a mind-breath connection is key. Because when we use pranayama to calm the breath, we calm the mind, keeping our life force or prana steady, clear and revitalized for ultimate wellness.
Enjoy and may the life force be with you! 💨Kim