Today I got inspired by the words of Geeta Iyengar in her booklet Pranayama for Beginners:
“… As the outer body remains calm, the inner body finds its space; it is the body that responds if the brain remains calm and quiet. “
- What is Pranayama?
- What are the benefits of doing Pranayama?
- Is it the same as Meditation?
- Can I do it alone?
- Does it take hours of my day to do it?
- What is the best moment to do Pranayama?
- What if I sleep while doing pranayama?
- I can’t do long breaths / My breath is short
- Shall I breathe in the abdomen or in the chest? what is the right way?
- Shall I lay down or shall I sit?
- If there is one only rule about Pranayama what would it be?
These and many other questions come to our minds when the word Pranayama pops up! You can find endless descriptions of what is Pranayama in many books, however only by practicing it we understand and feel what it is about.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is the 4th limb of the tree of yoga, the leaves, you can find many descriptions and explanations. For me Pranayama is breath with awareness, awareness of the passivity of the nervous system. The journey starts by observing the breath, once feeling at ease we can go on with the specific breath techniques.
What are the benefits of doing Pranayama?
I like to start my day with an empty head doing Pranayama, only by laying properly aligned, being alone, and observing the breath will bring focus to the day. I notice that when I am doing it consistently for weeks or months, my days become easier, solutions instead of problems pop up, and I am focussed and peaceful. As a side effect of breathing the entire body becomes more oxygenated, we become aware of areas of the lungs that we did not notice before and we build up our energy level.
Is it the same as Meditation?
It is not the same as Meditation, but Meditation may happen after doing Pranayama
Can I do it alone?
Everyone can/should do a supported Savasana and observe the breath (the preliminary state of Pranayama). Patanjali reiterates in his Yoga Sutras that we should only attempt Pranayama when we master Assana practice, this is because Assana cleans and aligns the body for the air to travel inside. To go further with breathing techniques we should learn with a teacher the same way we learn Assanas. When knowing what to do and what not to do, self-practice is then our best teacher.
Does it take hours of my day to do it?
The secret of any personal practice is consistency, it does not need to take a big slice of our busy days, we can start with 5 or 10 min of breath awareness, and as we continue the daily practice maybe the body wants to stay longer.
What is the best moment to do Pranayama?
For me it is the morning, after waking up, If not possible in the morning we can do it in the evening although I find it more difficult, because the mind is active. If we are starting our Pranayama practice we may want to do Assana before in order to wake up the body.
What if I sleep while doing pranayama?
Everyone falls asleep every now and then, most probably if we fall asleep it is because our body is not well aligned or is tired, a teacher can help with this.
I can’t do long breaths / My breath is short
There are no requirements to start observing the breath, we start our journey exactly where we are, with no judgments, no need to prove ourselves, and no competition, ONLY by doing it we can eventually modify the way we breathe.
Shall I breathe in the abdomen or in the chest? what is the right way?
Observing the breath has no rules, one day we are breathing faster another day slower, up in the chest or in the abdomen. When we want to modify the breath, make retentions, breathe with steps, or breath with alternate nostrils, then we need to learn with a teacher.
Shall I lay down or shall I sit?
We start laying, and there are many ways to adjust while laying the body is supported and it is less tiring, only after mastering the laying down Pranayama should we try sitting.
If there is one only rule about Pranayama what would it be?
NO PHYSICAL EFFORT to make the breath longer or shorter, faster or slower. Pranayama with effort and tension is not Pranayama, the same is true with breath awareness. Breath awareness means becoming aware of our present moment, observing it from a distance, it does not mean interfering with it. We put effort while learning Assana, and while doing Pranayama we need to keep that physical effort away.
I hope to have inspired you to try a pranayama practice, maybe is not for you, but you will never know if you don’t try.