I have a confession: I almost gave up on yoga last week. I wanted to take up kickboxing just to get away from Patanjali’s preachiness. As we went deeper into the sutras, things started getting heavy. According to the old yogis, life is just a big circle of pain. I think Nietzsche could have been a yogi in his previous life, as he said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering”. Bliss in yogic language seems to be about building immunity to pain. Yoga opens up parts of you that you never knew existed. It unlocks hidden feelings, and if you continue with your practice, it helps release them too. So I allowed my resentment to flow through me, I indulged it even, and just a day before Diwali, yoga felt magical again.
And I found myself powering through week four of my yoga trainer’s course, when we started going from the gross to the subtle – from the asanas to the breath. The ancient yogis considered breath to be the bridge between the mind and the body. Just focus on your breath and you’ll notice how your senses withdraw from the outside and focus within. In yoga, there are five types of breaths, but describing them will become too complicated. Let’s just say that your breath controls everything from your sense organs to your circulatory system. If you stop breathing for just a minute, your brain cells begin to die.
In Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, pranayama (breath control exercises) comes after asanas, because it is not something that’s recommended for beginners. Dr Iyengar likens the energy created by pranayama (prana) to electricity. But if we keep generating electricity in faulty wires it’s bound to create a short circuit. This is where the asanas help by opening your body’s energy channels so that the prana can circulate smoothly. And yet, we think of pranayama as a practice for the elderly, often eschewing it for handstands or complicated arm balances.
The Yogic Breath
Follow these steps to start your pranayama practice:
- The best time for pranayama is after a few asanas, even three or four surya namaskars will do the job.
- Next, lie down in shavasana (corpse pose) for a few moments. Most people skip this, but it’s an important pose to enable deep, internal healing.
- Then sit comfortably with a straight back. You can either sit on a chair, cross-legged or with two cushions under your hips. Even support your back against a wall if you have to.
- Breathe deeply into your stomach expanding it completely. Exhale slowly through the nose. Repeat this thrice while mentally counting your breath. Pay attention to maintaining an equal count while inhaling and exhaling for maximum benefits.
- Breathe deeply again, but this time into your stomach and chest. Feel your abdomen and lungs expand with air. Exhale slowly. Repeat thrice.
- Now breathe deep into your abdomen, chest, up till your shoulders – fill yourself with your breath. Exhale slowly with the same count. You can increase the count to six or seven. To make it easier take small sips of breath instead of gulping it down at once. Repeat thrice.
- After this keep your eyes shut and just observe your normal breath. Experience prana; it’s the tingling sensation running through your body.
Vasudha Rai is doing her teacher’s training course at The Yoga Studio, New Delhi, and blogs at www.vbeauty.co.