HOW HAS PRACTICING PRANAYAMA CHANGED YOUR PRACTICE?
Yoga asana (physical movement) is the third limb of yoga and a pathway into the fourth, Pranayama (breath control). When we start class by deepening the breath and equalizing our inhales and exhales, we are practicing Pranayama. When we practice Ujjayi breathing during yoga, we are practicing Pranayama. In that way, Pranayama is an essential part of yoga asana practice.
The way that Pranayama has changed my practice is by extending yoga into daily life, providing a pathway for yoga to occur in meetings and phone calls, while driving and speaking and sitting at the computer. We are always breathing, and Pranayama techniques help deepen our connection to the breath. By raising our awareness of breath, we can discover the opportunity to practice yoga at every moment of our lives.
Practicing Pranayama has changed my practice significantly, particularly when attempting and while holding difficult poses. I used to mostly hold my breath and think throughout class and especially when I was in challenging poses, not necessarily because I wanted to but because I just didn’t understand how to used my breath to help myself through it. Over time I’ve developed a coordination and awareness of my breath in practice and I rely on it now to help me through each movement.
If you practice with me regularly, you know that breath integration is pivotal part of the practice I offer as an instructor as well as within my own personal practice. Pranayama is what takes your yoga practice to a new and deeper level. There are many breathing techniques that I bring in to practice that have benefits ranging from relaxation (belly breathing), concentration & rejuvenation (nodhi shodhana), strength & focus (ujjayi breath) and even playful & exhilarating (lion’s breath). Try one, try them all, but try them! There is significant strength and focus that comes just from breathing well and with intention.
Exploring pranayama was a turning point for me in my personal yoga practice. It helped me connect to myself in ways I had not yet explored. Meditation movement, or yoga, no longer makes sense to my body if I can’t link it with the breath. The beauty of continued practice on the mat is that the benefits of pranayama follow me off the mat and into my daily life. It’s a mechanism to manage stress, pain, anxiety, and even the joy of other movement forms.
Practicing pranayama has allowed me to pay attention to my stress levels more and address them with breathing. I have less muscle tightness in my neck as a result. I am also able to calm any anxiety better with pranayama. Finally, I teach pranayama as part of every class in some fashion and try to pick techniques that might be most helpful for each situation or class. When we use pranayama to access the parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite to the fight/flight response) it is such a powerful tool.
If you have ever been to one of my classes then you have more than likely experienced my favorite pranayama technique – Apana Breath – or as I like to say “Sigh out your mouth.” This incredibly easy to do breath technique is my go to when I need to get grounded, clear my head and relax. It really does work every time.
Pranayama is an incredible practice that is the bridge between the physical experience and the energetic experience. The exploration of breath was the turning point for me in my yoga practice. It helped me make connections to my physical body that I had never explored before and ultimately gave me greater insight to the innate wisdom that I hold within. Pranayama practice in some yoga traditions can get incredibly complex but for me, simpler is better. Just the act of consciously watching my breath and taking a few rounds of Apana Breath has changed everything for me. Try it out and let me know your experience.
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