August 22, 2011
Breathing is Gooda
The fourth step of The 8-Fold Path of Yoga relates to breath, specifically to regulating both the inhalation and exhalation. We bring awareness to this practice on the mat, during our meditations as well as while moving through postures. Pranayama simply translates as; prana, meaning life force energy and yama, relating to control, restraint, or regulation. Therefore, this practice refers to the conscious control of the breath, with the intention of affecting the life force energy within us.
Being aware of the breath helps us to sleep better, reduce stress, and live healthier lives overall. When we allow ourselves the gift of being present with sensations of the breath, we become a bit closer to our true Self. Studies show that deep breathing leads to a more relaxed nervous system, and in turn a more balanced mind. Breathing can also instill greater clarity of thought, which leads to a connection to your Higher Self.
As you begin a pranayama practice, the best way to do so is by becoming a pure observer of the breath. Just allow yourself to observe the natural qualities of the breath. Release any urge to label sensations, or to have a sense of “knowing” what the breath feels like. Simply notice how the breath feels as it flows through your body, releasing all expectations and judgments.
From here, I invite you to practice the three-part breath, with a deep inhalation, feeling the breath fill the low belly (diaphragmatic) first, allowing the belly to expand. Next, fill the ribs (thoracic) with air, and then noticing the air continue upward into the clavicular region and throat. Exhale from the top of the body, downward, again, being aware of the breath flowing to all three parts of the body, the belly releases the final air from the exhalation last. As you do this, the each area of the body will expand as you inhale, and naturally contract as you exhale. The three-part breath is nicely practiced while placing your hands on each part of the body where you are controlling the breath. The breath can be better felt with the added benefit of using the hands to increase sensation.
The three-part breath can also be practiced during asanas (postures). When you are just beginning, inhale for six counts, and exhale for six counts. Gradually increase one count per week until you reach fifteen in and out. Controlling your breath with the same duration of both the inhalation and exhalation (balancing or equal breath), creating a consistent flow through the three areas of the lungs, harmonizes our energy, balancing our body and mind.