Pranayama: keeping the prana (life force energy) under control to train the obedience of your mind

Guest post by Belle Jansen

Controlling and elongating your breath

The goal of yoga is to silence the mind. To reach this goal, an important step is to learn how to control and elongate your breath: because when you focus on your breathing, you'll notice you won't be able to be busy with other things at the same time. This is the state of 'eka tattva', where you focus on one thing only. Pranayama is a collective term for different breathing techniques. 'Prana' means life force energy and the meaning of 'ayama' is to control and elongate. By practising pranayama, you use your breath to influence the stream and quality of prana and you train your mind to be obedient. You will learn to calm yourself when you notice you are stressed, angry, sad or nervous and how to energize yourself by using specific pranayama techniques. 

 

Belle Jansen Pranayama

 

Are you just getting started with pranayama? There are a few important guidelines to keep in mind: 

  • Practise regularly, preferably on the same spot and at the same time. 
  • Always breathe through your nose, unless the teacher tells you otherwise. 
  • Only practise pranayama as long as it feels comfortable and build it up slowly. Are you bothered by itches, tintling sensations or a light feeling in your head? Don't force it!  
  • Practise it mindfull. When you are hurried or stressed and race through the exercises unconciously, it can affect your body in a negative way. 

Belle Jansen meditatie

 

Ujjayi breath -  ocean breath

If you aim to improve your concentration and want to feel more determined, try the Ujjayi breath (ocean breath). This breathing technique has a powerful and warming effect. The sound you produce with the ujjayi breath will make you feel more grounded and will help you to keep your focus in the here and now. 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable way, keep your eyes closed and relax your body. 
  2. Bring your focus to your breathing, notice how your breath goes in and out of your nostrils and let your breath slow down and deepen. 
  3. Now bring your focus to your thoat. Imagine that there is a tiny hole in your throat to breath in and out through instead of your nostrils. 
  4. Slow down and deepen your breathing even further. Both the inhalation and the exhalation are deep and controlled. 
  5. Slowly tense the muscles at the backside of your throat to make your breathingpassage smaller, moving the breath up and down the throat. You'll produce a soft murmurous sound, comparable to the sound of the ocean.
  6. Concentrate on the sound that you produce in the back of your throat. The sounds doesn't need to be loud enough for others to hear it, as long as you can hear it yourself.   

 

Bhramari breath - humming bee

Right before meditation or yoga nidra, when you want to close yourself off from everything around you; Bhramari (humming bee's breath) is ideal to focus your senses inwards and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system that calmes your mind. The humming bee vibrations in your exhalation have a calming effect. 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable way, keep your eyes closed and relax your body. 
  2. Both thumbs are used to close your ears by pressing the tragus, the cartilage part between your cheek and the ear. 
  3. The other fingers are used to cover your eyes. You can also use the traditional shanmukhi mudra toepassen: place your indexfingers softly on the inner edges of your eyes, your middlefingers on the sides of your nose, your ringfingers above your lips and your pinkies right below. Make sure to apply soft pressure only on your eyes. 
  4. Breathe in deep through the nose. 
  5. Breathe out through the nose, while creating the humming sound of a bee: 'hmmmm'. Breathe out slowly and as long as you can. 
  6. Repeat 7 times. After that, return to your normal breathing and sit in silence for a moment. 

 

Sitali breath - cooling

Sitali (cooling breath) is very suitable when you feel hot, angry or frustrated. Sitali cools the body, lowers the blood pressure and has a calming effect. 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable way, keep your eyes closed and relax your body. 
  2. Open your mouth, let your tongue hang out and curl it. (In case you are not able to curl it, keep it relaxed inside your mouth and bring your teeth together, your lips in an o-shape). 
  3. Breathe deeply and slowly through your mouth, through the curl in your tongue as if you suck the air in through a straw, or trough the spaces between your teeth. Feel the cool air going in. 
  4. Breathe out slowly through your nose. Feel the warm air going out. 
  5. Repeat the cooling breath five to twenty times. 

 

Kapalbhati breath - warming

Kapalbhati (skull shining breathing), other than sitali breath, has a warming effect, stimulates the organs in your belly and provides you with energy. This makes it a very suitable morning practise to start your day or to do before a challenging yoga pose. Please note: don't do this exercise when you have high blood pressure, are having your period, are pregnant or feel dizzy. 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable way and straigthen your spine. 
  2. The focus in this breathing technique is on the exhalation. The breath will be repeated multiple times in a high pace.
  3. Breathe in slowly, breathe out very quickly and powerfully through your nose, while contracting your abdominal muscles (pull in your belly button as if it can touch your spine). By doing so, you let your breath come out of your nostrils with with force. 
  4. In inhalation though your nose is passive, it comes by itself by relaxing the abdominal muscles. 
  5. Focus on the short powerfull breaths out through the nose. 
  6. Start practising in series of 3 x 15, with five normal breaths inbetween each round. Slowly build up to 3 x 30 or even 2 minutes per round. 

 

Nadhi Shodana breathing - energizing

To gain more energy, lower your heartbeat and activate your digestion, you can practise Nadhi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing). This breathing technique creates balance between the left (logic) and right (creativity, intuition) side of your brain. 

  1. Sit down in a comfortable way, keep your eyes closed and relax your body. 
  2. Bring your right hand in front of your face, let your middlefinger and indexfinger rest on between your eyebrows. Your thumb is right above your right nostril and you ringfinger is above the left. 
  3. Bring your thumb toward your right nostril, close it and breathe in deep through your left nostril. Bring your ringfinger towards your left nostril, close it and breathe out slowly though your right nosril. Breathe in though your right nostril, bring your thumb back to close your right nostril and breathe out though your left. This is one round. 
  4. Every time you've been breathing in through one nostril you change sides. Use the same nostril you've used to breathe out with to breathe in again. 
  5. See is you can count till four on every in- and exhalation, so they are of equal length. Try this for five rounds and then return to your normal breathing. 
  6. When you've tried this for a few days and it starts to feel natural to you, you can try to elongate the in- and exhalations by one count per day, till a maximum of 12 counts per in- and exhalation. Take it easy and don't force it! 

 

By practising Pranayama outside, you'll renew and refresh your whole breathingsystem. The inhalation of fresh air helps you to activate and support your immunesystem. Being outdoors also improves the mind-body-connection; whether is warm and sunny, windy and cool, or even cold and snowy. For every type of weather there is a suitable pranayama technique to improve your connection to nature and the elements! This will help you to create a state of calmth, both physically and mentally. 

 

 

Belle Jansen

 

Belle - recognisable by her carrier cycle :) - regularly teaches (outdoor) yogaclasses for companies in the Amsterdam area. Want to know more? Visit her website www.leelayoga.nl.

 

 

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