The Fundamentals of Yoga – Pranayama

Pranayama translates as Prana (life energy / breath) + ayama (control). It’s a way of controlling our breathing to influence our physical / mental state and is a core component of yoga.

Warning

As with any exercise, seek advice from your doctor / physician if you are in any doubt as to whether it is suitable for you. Do not practise these exercises if you have any breathing or heart conditions.

Exercise #1 – Slow Rhythmic Breathing

When we are stressed our sympathetic nervous system is activated; breathing is affected and becomes rapid and shallow. Our mind state can affect our breathing. However, we can use the process in reverse. By controlling our breathing we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to induce a calmer state of mind.

Find a comfortable sitting position – either sitting on a chair or supported by cushions / blocks on the floor. Maintain an upright posture.

  1. Close your eyes and start to slow your breathing.
  2. Count the length of your inbreath.
    Initially this may only be a count of 3 or 4 seconds, however, over the course of the next few breaths try to slow this to a count of 6 or perhaps even a count of 8.
  3. Now, introduce a pause at the top of the breath for half as long as the count of the inbreath.
    So, perhaps inhale for a count of 6 and pause for a count of 3.
  4. Now, mirror those counts during the exhale.
    Exhale to a count of 6 and pause at the bottom of the breath for a count of 3.
    If this is too slow and you find yourself gasping for a breath then reduce the counts but keep the pauses at the top of the inhale / bottom of the exhale half as long as the count of the inhale / exhale.
  5. Repeat for at least nine rounds but you can continue as long as you are comfortable.

After practising for a while you may find that you’re able to increase the counts to 8-4-8-4 or perhaps even longer. Be mindful of when the ego wants to get involved. It’s not a competition. The important thing is to bring a rhythm to the breath and to focus the mind on the physical sensations of the breath. After a while, you may begin to notice a shift in your mind’s state. Hopefully, you will feel calmer and more relaxed afterwards.