Wikipedia definition: Prāṇāyāma is the practice of breath control in yoga. In modern yoga as exercise, it consists of synchronising the breath with movements between asanas, but is also a distinct breathing exercise on its own, usually practised after asanas.
It took me years to ‘get’ the breath part of yoga. When I got quiet enough and deep enough to experience it, I realised that without pranayama, there is no yoga. Prana, as I later learnt, is the Sanskrit word for ‘breath’. Deeper than that though, prana in Sanskrit, means life force. Let that sink in for a moment. I remember hearing that and understanding that for the first time
I would always hear yoga teachers say the following:
‘Connect with your breath’
‘Breathe into the pose’
‘Use your breath to go deeper into the pose’
The truth was that I was just trying to make it to the end of the class, happy that I was still breathing, let alone ‘managing’ my breath. I also had sinus and hay fever and seasonal asthma...like I said, I was just trying to get to the end of the class.
Later on in my life, I came across a teacher who put a lot of emphasis on pranayama. Actually, let me reframe that. All the yoga teachers that I was blessed to cross paths with, spoke about the breath. Perhaps, I had arrived at a point where I was ready to listen. Then things changed for me. My yoga practice changed. I still worked hard physically, but their was no physical movement without the breath. I watched and listened to my body when I breathed and how it moved. When I moved with my exhalation I had more freedom. When I returned to my base on my exhalation, I regrouped. All of this mattered and all of this changed the way I moved and then my intention changed. I began to slow down, internally. I felt a liberation and I felt connected to myself and to the present moment on a deeper level. It’s a personal experience. Pranayama is the way in….in to the inside.
“Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a
flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.”
Most of you would’ve heard me say that what we learn on the mat, we hope to take with us, off the mat. This is especially true when it comes to Pranayama. At the risk of sounding cliche, next time you feel anxious, fearful, self doubt, angry or restless, stop and breathe. Think about your ‘favourite’ pranayama practice from any of our classes and practise for a moment. Take a moment for your breath. Take a moment for your life force. The ancient yogi’s would say that you can miss one day of your physical yoga practise and all will be ok. If you miss one day from your pranayama practise, you shorten your life by one day.
This is why I start and end my classes with pranayama. Yoga is not just a physical practise. It’s a wholistic practise which takes care of the mind, body and soul. The practise of yoga organically brings us back to our breath. We are forced to control our breath in our asanas and during our pranayama. We are forced to withdraw our other senses in order to focus on the breath. We are forced to stay in the present. There is no other way.