The One Where I Share With You The Ancient Practice of Pranayama, Its Benefits and A Simple Beginner’s Breathing Exercise.
Pranayama, or the practice of Yoga breathing , has always been a great passion of mine. It was an area that I chose to specialise in during my training and subsequent years as a Yoga Teacher.
Our breath is the bridge that takes us from the outer world of distraction, ego, thought and mind into our inner world of wisdom, truth, connection and belonging. It is the key to inner peace, balance, harmony, grounding, healing, transformation and connection to Self and Truth.
In this blog, I would like to share with you what I have come to learn, over the years, about this ancient practice of breathing exercises.
What is Pranayama?
“Yoga breathing or Pranayama teaches us how to recharge the body and control our mental and emotional states by regulating the flow of Prana or life force”Saraswati Neville, The Saraswati Yoga Studio, Sutton London.
The Practice, and known benefits of Pranayama are said to stem back thousands of years
Prana – means breath, vitality and energy. It is said to be the life force or healing energy of the universe. Also known in Chinese Healing modalities as Qi or Chi, it exists in all things and in all beings, including in us.
Yama – means to control, master, regulate, prolong and restrain.
In simple terms, Pranayama are breathing exercises that deliberately and consciously control, regulate and increase the breath to allow us to build up levels of Prana in our body, mind and Spirit.
With a free flow of Prana through our bodies, we feel healthy, vibrant, abundant and alive. And with low, stagnant levels of Prana we feel unwell and unbalanced. Disconnected from ourselves, others and life and low in energy, mood, motivation, creativity, passion, joy and love of life.
Pranayama teaches us ‘Good breathing’ that consists of breathing fully and rhythmically, making use of all of the lungs.
Pranayama reminds us, and in turn allows us to retrain our bodies, to breathe properly again. To help us restore the natural pattern and rhythm of breathing in our bodies that we have lost over time through adapting our bodies and breath to our stressful daily lifestyles and environments.
Later on in this post, I will share a quick and easy Pranayama (Yoga breathing exercise) with you but before I do I would like to talk about How To Safely Practise Pranayama and The Benefits of Pranayama.
How To Safely Practise Pranayama.
Before you practise Pranayama it is really important to ensure :
- Proper Understanding, Awareness and Instruction on Pranayama
Some exercises can be very demanding. And not all exercises are suitable for those with breathing problems or existing medical conditions. Pranayama is very much a skill that can be acquired only through proper instruction, training and practise. It is essential to get instructions from an experienced teacher in Yoga and/or Pranayama.
2. You are well enough to practise.
Pranayama is excellent for those who suffer from respiratory complaints such as asthma. However you are advised not to practise during an asthma attack. Please consult a medical practitioner before practising Pranayama if you have existing breath related medical conditions, including asthma.
3. Patient perseverance and the will to learn.
As with all Yoga practice it takes gentleness, patience and perseverance to begin to feel and see the benefits of Pranayama practice. All of these qualities are the key to learning and having a safe and happy Pranayama practice.
4. A Suitable Place to Practice
Places of practice should be peaceful, warm, clean, dust free and airy and where you are unlikely to be disturbed. You may like to create your own sacred space indoors to practise or you may even like to practise outside, somewhere where you are safe and won’t be disturbed.
5. Comfortable Clothing
When practising Pranayama it is important to wear warm, comfortable and loose clothing. In particular comfy trousers such as lounge pants or tracksuit bottoms that are loose fitting with an elasticated waistband so that you have free and comfortable movement in the lower abdomen during your Pranayama practice. If you have a meditation shawl or favourite blanket you might like to have that close by in case you become chilly when you practise.
6. Regular Practice
Pranayama can produce wonderful results, but only with regular practise. To really feel the benefits of this practice you are advised to practise at least once a day. Just starting out with 5 minutes a day, at a regular time, and building up over the weeks, months and years is a really good place to start and you will soon start to feel, and see, the benefits of your practice. Building up slowly in this way will also allow Pranayama to become an easy, effective and sustainable part of your daily routine.
7. Clear Nasal Passages
To practise Pranayama the nose needs to be clear and both passages in the nostrils need to be open. If a nostril is partially or completely blocked then breathing will become harder and the exercises will become more laboured and ineffective as you are more likely to struggle to breathe. If you are suffering from blocked nasal passages then you can either postpone your practice until your passages are clear. You can use aromatherapy to see if steaming can help unblock your nasal passage. And/or you can use a cleansing technique, or Kriya, used in Yoga called Neti. For more information on Neti please seek in person advice and instruction from a qualified Yoga teacher.
8. A Comfortable Position
Whether you choose to practise Pranayama sitting on the floor in a legs crossed or legs outstretched position, on a chair or lying down make sure that you are comfortable holding this position for the duration of your practice. Also ensure that your posture is good and that your spine is straight and in alignment with your head and neck.
9. Leave 2 hours after eating a meal before your practice. (3 hours for a large meal)
During your practice, unless otherwise instructed:
- Breathe through the nose.
- Keep your mouth closed, but relaxed.
- Try to use your lungs fully, unless otherwise instructed.
- Keep your breath slow, deep and even.
- Never force the breath in any way.
- Change your position of practice if you become uncomfortable to release tension in the body that may affect your breathing. And don’t forget to re-check your posture.
- Build up your practice gradually and always stay with the stage of exercise that feels right for you at the time.
- To stop and rest if anything become too much or too uncomfortable
- Always stop practising if you start to feel faint, lighted headed or dizzy or if either breathlessness or feelings of panic occur. Allow your breath to return to normal. If comfortable you resume practice. Otherwise rest, discontinuing your practice. You can always have another go at another time. Seek medical advice if these symptoms continue to arise.
- Always practise with the intention to heal and not harm yourself. Approach your Pranayama from your Spirit and not your Ego.
ONE FINAL POINT TO NOTE
Working Pranayama and ‘correct breathing’ not only uses muscles and lung tissues that may have been slack for years, but also it releases emotional tensions that have been locked inside, so you may feel a little panicky to begin with as the emotional energy starts to release and unlock. Remember you are in control and can stop your practice whenever you need to. You decide when and how to practise in accordance with what is right for you.
A Quick and Easy Pranayama For You To Try
Stage One of the Yogic Complete or Three Part/ Full Lung Breath
I would like to share with you a very simple beginner’s breathing exercise. It teaches us ‘good breathing’ by retraining our bodies to breathe deep down into the lower abdomen. Lower abdominal breathing is the natural way that our bodies know how to breathe. You only have to watch a baby breathing to see how naturally and effortlessly they, from DAY 1 of their lives, breathe in this way.
However, for most of us, in our hurried and stressful daily lives, this natural pattern of breathing is often disturbed and we breathe, in that state of stress and tension, more up into our upper chests. This not only restricts our breathing but also creates many unpleasant symptoms such as shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness that can prolong our state of stress, tension and lack of wellbeing.
You can practise this exercise sitting upright in a chair. Or lying on the bed or floor with your head, neck and spine all straight and in alignment.
To begin with, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your lower abdomen, just below your belly button.
With your arms soft and loose and your breath slow, deep and even, inhale (breathe in) all the way down to your lower abdominal area, feeling the gentle rise of your tummy. Then as you exhale (breathe out) allow your abdomen to sink back down towards your spine. Repeat several times or for up to 3 minutes if you are new to Pranayama, noticing the gentle rise and fall of your abdomen with each breath. Never forcing or straining the breath and stopping practise if it becomes uncomfortable or too much for you in any way.
TIP: To see if you are practising correctly, bring awareness to your hands positioned on your body as you practise. If you are practising correctly the hand on your abdomen should rise and fall with the breath. Your hand on your chest should remain completely still. If your hand on your chest begins to move, relax you body and breathe a little more and try to focus your breath, awareness and movement further down your body, into your abdomen.
The Benefits of Pranayama
Regular Pranayama and ‘good breathing’ practice can bring about many advantages to help ease and aid many of today’s commonly experienced physical and mental medical conditions including:
Headaches, backache, the common cold, asthma, insomnia, migraines, hypertension, bronchitis, menstrual irregularities, stress, anxiety and depression
Pranayama is truly one of my great passions in life. Spreading the word and sharing this ancient practice is such an important part of the work that I do in helping support survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
The benefits of Pranayama, on my very own healing journey, have been vast, helping me to navigate my daily life challenges with a greater sense of balance and calm. A regular daily practice has been a lifesaver for me on many levels including helping me to stay centred, grounded and balanced amongst the mental and emotional turmoil and processing. It has helped me to calm my overstimulated and overactive nervous system and fight and flight response. It has helped me to restore my energy and revive and rejuvenate in moments of low mood and energy depletion. And it has helped me stay connected to ‘Me’, my truth and the present moment in my many moments of disconnection and regression back into my past of abuse and trauma.
The breath is our everything and without it we are nothing
Over the coming weeks I will post videos on my YouTube Channel, (click here to subscribe), to demonstrate many of the Pranayamas, including the exercise above, that I have learnt over the last two decades of being a Yoga teacher. I will also post more tips on how to practise, including positions and posture for practice. (Don’t forget to hit the bell when subscribing to be notified of when I upload new videos.)
In my sharing I hope to inspire you to give Pranayama a go for yourself. Be open minded and be pleasantly surprised as you practise. If nothing else you will feel calmer, more peaceful and more able to face the challenges in your daily life.
I hope, as always that my sharing has inspired you in some way.
Comment Below: As always I’d love to hear from you and would love for you to get in touch and share your thoughts and experiences on this subject and share any ways that this exercise may have helped you on your healing journey.
My love is with you as always.
Until next time, take care
DISCLAIMER: Your safety is important to me. Please practise the technique on this blog post with care and caution. Pranayama is not for everyone. The content on this blog post is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content on this blog post. Although I make reasonable efforts to update the information on this blog post, I make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content on this post is accurate, complete or up to date. If you have any doubt, please consult your doctor and/or a qualified Pranayama or Yoga practitioner and if you feel any pain, discomfort or dizziness, please do not continue until you have sought medical advice. Any health information on this post is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not in any way intended or implied to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. The information on this post is not intended to be taken as a replacement for medical advice. I do not accept any responsibility in connection with the use of the information in individual cases. Any practices and suggestions contained in this blog post are undertaken at the reader’s sole discretion and risk. If you have doubts about the sustainability of the advise/content, please consult a doctor beforehand.