Asana (posture) practice is only one facet of the practice of yoga. According to Pantanjali yoga asana is to be used to prepare the body for meditation, which is thought to be the path to connection with the higher Self. The other key component to both asana practice and meditation is the breath. (We will cover meditation in the next post Pranayama is the practice of controlling and guiding the breath and is critical in all aspects of a yoga practice.
It is essential when starting a breath practice, to first position the body in a way that allows for the breath to be as full and as deep as possible. In order to allow maximum breath to flow in and out of the body, the spine should be long, with the crown of the head reaching towards the sky. Whether practicing pranayama seated or standing, find those connection points with the earth. Feel the energy that rebounds from the earth, assisting to elongate the spine.
During most moments of our days, we are only engaging 30% of our lungs, and a breath practice invites the breath to fill each crevice of the lungs. Before beginning a breath practice there are a few simple reminders. 1. We should never force the breath. Instead we want to invite the breath to deepen at a pace that is steady and comfortable for the body. 2. Only deepen the breath to a point that it remains comfortable. If you deepen the breath to the point of panic, the exercise becomes counterproductive.
3 part breath:
One of those most common pranayama practices is yogic 3 part breathing. Start with the spine long, the eyes closed, or with a soft focus a few feet in front of you. Begin slowly inviting the breath down into the belly, drawing the diaphragm down into the abdomen. Next feel the breath move into the ribcage, spreading the ribs from side to side, allowing the breath to expand the space between the ribs. Allow the breath to fill the lungs all the way up to the collar bones. If available, allow a slight pause at the top of the breath before beginning the exhale. The exhale should fall gentle from the body, with control, starting with the top of the lungs, emptying out the middle of the lungs, emptying out all the way through the abdomen, squeezing the last bit of air out. Allow the breath to expand at a pace that makes sense and feels right for you, trying to make each breath a beat longer than the one before. Try if at all possible to have the exhale be slightly longer than the inhale. This signals to the body that it is okay to relax.
Anoloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing):
Find a comfortable seated position, using props if needed/wanted. Allow the thumb and first finger of the left hand to make light contact, with the palm facing upward, resting on the left thigh. With the right hand press the index and middle finger into the palm of the hand, allowing the other fingers to fall open. Take a few deep cleansing breaths, in and out through the nostrils.
Take a deep inhale through both nostrils and bring the right thumb to the right nostril, closing off the nostril after the completion of the inhale. Exhale through the left nostril fully. Take a slight pause at the bottom of the exhale, and inhale completely through the left nostril. At the top of the inhale, pause, closing off both nostrils with the thumb and ring finger. Now bring the right ring finger to close off the left nostril, exhaling completely through the right nostril. Inhale completely through the right nostril, maintaining the closed left nostril with the ring finger on the left hand. Pause at the top of the inhale to reflect, but only to the point of comfort. Exhale completely through the left nostril with the thumb closing off the right nostril with the thumb. This constitutes one round of anoloma viloma. For beginners, start with only a few rounds, and work your way up.
With either breath practice, it is important to remain relaxed and allow the breath to expand naturally. Either practice may feel cumbersome or challenging when you first try it out. Work within the limits of your body, and try to expand on the practice the next time you sit down for a breath practices. Each breath is completely unique from all that came before it, so enjoy!