“your breath is the metronome of your life” – Donna Farhi
What does Yoga do?
Pranayama or breathing is the next step in Yoga practice. Without breath there is no life. With half breath there is only half life, and most people only half breathe if that. Because of wrong training, laziness and ignorance, breathing properly has become almost a lost art in modern urbanised societies. We sit hunched over desks or machines all day, we slouch when we stand, and when we sit at home to relax, we assume positions that nature never intended, or she would have designed our bodies much differently. So we never give our lungs a chance to fill from top to bottom and we never empty them of stale, used air, completely. If our lungs are not operating at maximum efficiency, then our blood is not purified properly. If our blood is not pure, then every one of the billions of cells throughout the body will not function properly, leading to disorder and disease. Yogic breathing concentrates on breathing correctly – using the lungs as they were meant to be used and to their fullest capacity. Correct breathing has a very significant effect upon the general physical health of the body.
Advice and Precautions
- The bladder, stomach and intestines should be empty. Wait for at lest four hours after meals before doing pranayama.
- Do pranayama after asanas, and before meditation.
- While doing pranayama the body should be as relaxed as possible. The spine, neck and head should be erect and centered.
- During pranayama there should be no strain. The breath should not be retained for longer than is comfortable. This is most important as the lungs are very delicate organs and any misuse can easily cause them injury.
- Practice in a well-ventilated (not windy), clean and pleasant environment. Do notpractice pranayama in a foul-smelling, smoky or dusty room. When beginning, some constipation and a reduction in the quantity of urine may be experienced. In the case of dry motion, stop taking salt and spices. If you have a loose motion, stop pranayama for a few days and have a few meals of rice and yoghurt.Yogic Breathing TechniqueCorrect breathing helps to maintain physical and mental health. It is an essential prelude to the practice of pranayama and must be learnt and practiced for some time before more advanced techniques are attempted. Yogic breathing will eventually become normal for you and you will breathe this way all the time.
This is also known as diaphragmatic respiration. You can experience it for yourself by lying flat on the back and placing one hand over the navel. Inhale deeply and the hand will rise as the abdomen expands outwards. The more the abdomen expands outwards, the lower the diaphragm moves. The diaphragm is the strong muscle membrane which separates the lungs form the abdominal organs. The lower it moves during inhalation the more air is induced into the lungs.
Exhale deeply and you will see that your hand moves inwards towards the spine as the abdomen contracts. The diaphragm will move higher if the contraction of the abdomen is accentuated. Maximum expulsion of the air from the lungs will thereby occur.
During this practice do not move the chest or shoulders.
Thoracic or Chest Breathing
Maintain the same position as above. Inhale while expanding the ribcage or chest. You will find that the ribs move outwards and upwards.
Exhale and you will find that the ribs move inwards and downwards.
Try not to move the abdomen at all in thoracic breathing.
By combing these two types of respiration it is possible to get the optimum amount of air into the lungs and also to expel the maximum amount of waste air during exhalation. This type of respiration, which is the way everyone should breathe, is called complete or yogic breathing. It is practiced as follows:
Inhale by first expanding the abdomen and then the chest, in one slow, smooth motion, until the maximum possible amount of air has been drawn into the lungs.
Then exhale, by first relaxing the chest and then the abdomen. Finally, accentuate the contraction of the abdominal muscles, so that the maximum amount of air is expelled from the lungs.
The whole movement should be smooth and without jerks, from the abdomen to the chest and from the chest to the abdomen. It should be smooth, almost like a wave, flowing naturally from one movement into the next.
This procedure should be repeated for all exhalations and inhalations. At first, because of lack of training, you will have to do it consciously for a few minutes every day. Eventually, however, the process will become automatic and you will do it with every breath throughout the day.
Practice this for at least 5 minutes every day, as part of your daily sadhana.
The change in your whole life will be wonderful to behold if you do nothing else but this breathing.
You will be less susceptible to minor illnesses such as colds and coughs, as well as more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma. Your vitality will improve enormously and you will be less inclined to become easily tired. Your thinking power will be improved, and you will find that you will develop a calmer attitude to life and will be less susceptible to anxiety or stress.
(to be continued)
Notes compiled by Zoe Campbell (2003) – from Satyananda – Integral Yoga Series