Pranayama Begins Now!: Boost Your Practice With Breath
All of us who do yoga know the physical postures – asanas – that make up the third aspect of the 8 aspects of yoga.
And though you hear about what follows, Pranayama (breath work/regulation), the topic remains shrouded in mystery.
The reading of the Yoga Sutras does not do much to clarify Pranayama, and even for teachers, it remains a big question of when and how to approach it with students.
The clear and simple answer to the question of “When to start Pranayama?” is now!
Your body is for asanas, but your breath is for life!
We all breathe. We all have breath, all the time, until we don’t. Because it is something we do all the time, it is easy to ignore it.
However, your breath is a vital tool for energy boosts and anxiety relief. Breath is the key to knowing how you feel and what you are thinking.
The sooner you pay attention to your breath, the sooner you harness the power to transform the way you feel, think, and approach the world.
From your first moment in class, you learn to pay attention to and let go of your distractions and narratives.
The breath is the truest thing you have, and it is there for you to more easily stay connected to movement, action, and reaction.
Like life, asana literally cannot happen without breath and your awareness of breath will allow you to move deeper and develop more insight into your practice of asana.
There is no reason to wait for Pranayama to become some separate “fancy” practice full of regulation and manipulation.
Sure, with guidance and sensitivity, you will carry forth with a separate practice of specific Pranayamas. But first, right now, the most important thing is to just pay attention to your natural, normal breath in whatever it is you are doing.
BKS Iyengar offers this direction with Pranayama – Ujjayi Stage I, the “preparatory stage that trains one in the art of being aware of sensations in the lungs; it leads to even breathing…this practice makes one attentive, invigorates the nerves, loosens any hardness in the lungs and prepares them for deep breathing.” (Light on Pranayama pg.129)
There is so much to learn just by paying attention and gaining knowledge of your own breath without trying to manipulate it.
Do you hold it? Is it shallow? Is it deep? Are your inhales more powerful or your exhales?
All of the answers to these questions brings insight to your self, your mental states, and the way you feel in mind and body.
Consider the 3 parts of breath and their qualities:
Inhale – evolution from inside out, energizes and heats the body and the nervous system.
Exhale – involution from outside in, calms and soothes the nervous system and mind
Passive Retention – present moment, stillness, quietude.
The many breath exercises of regulation and manipulation that comprise the full gamut of Pranayama come ONLY after you are present enough to pay attention to your normal breath habits. Structured Pranayama then utilizes any and all combinations of the above 3 aspects to bring about any desired effects.
As you progress in your ability to be sensitive your breath, you harness the “power of life” – the actual translation of prana. No wonder the affects of Pranayama are powerful and deep and in some ways longer lasting than that of asana.
For many a regular yoga practitioner, Pranayama practice becomes more important than asana practice over time.
Yes, it is helpful to have guidance from your teacher for more detailed practices, but know that your first Pranayama, just your awareness of breath, can begin any time you choose.
For more in-depth information, BKS Iyengar left us Light on Pranayama: the Yogic Art of Breathing.
So don’t delay!
Breathe. Pay attention. Now is the time for Pranayama!