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A Primer on Pranayama
Page 2: The Power Behind the Breath

The ancient Pranayama exercises were created as powerful tools to circulate not just the breath, but also Prana, the life force behind all things that exist. To many Westerners, the concept of Prana is vague, but it's not really all that difficult to understand. Think of a child that's glowing with health and energy - she has an abundance of Prana flowing freely throughout her system. Think of an animal that has been hit by a car and is dying by the side of the road. You can almost see the Prana leaving its body. There's far more to Prana and its relationship with your body, of course, but basically it is very essence of being alive, and it is intimately related to air and the breath. Anyone who practices Pranayama will find that their increase of oxygen intake gives them more energy and vitality, but there's something more that can't be explained merely by physiology. That's because of the clearing of channels through the exercises, along with an increase of Prana intake.

(Article continued below.)

Different Yoga styles have different approaches to Pranayama. Kundalini, for example, incorporates it into its practice right away, and exercises such as Breath of Fire are used along with the Asanas. Tibetan Yoga also concentrates on the breath. Other Hatha Yoga styles separate Pranayama from Asana practice and teach it on its own. There is one Pranayama exercise, however, that is commonly taught in Hatha Yoga: Ujjayi breath. Ujjayi breathing is used for focus and to help deepen the postures. This one exercise alone does much to enhance a Yoga practice.

To deeply study Pranayama, it is necessary to find a teacher. It is not one of those things that can be explored in depth through a book or a video (although some videos containing basic Pranayama exercises do exist). You can stress your lungs, diaphragm and nervous system if you do it improperly. Pranayama misused can cause anxiety or feelings of spaceyness. But you can work with your breath merely by becoming more aware of it. Take some time out every day to breathe evenly and deeply. Don't stuff the air into your lungs - just fill them comfortably. Sit up straight or lie down. Observe the areas of your lungs that aren't as ready to take in oxygen. Pay attention to your feelings. Relax your mind and give yourself over to your breathing. Also observe your breath during the day, and when you are tense, try to ease that tension with your breath. Give yourself the gift of good breathing. Once you have gotten to understand your breath a little better, perhaps you'll want to try that Pranayama class at the local Yoga studio after all!

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