Mastering the Art and Science of Pranayama
Yogis believe that if you can control your breath, you can control your life.
Pranayama, in Sanskrit, translates to vital force, or control of breathing.
The breath is the activator of Shakti, and the most direct path toward engaging with the subtle energy channels of the body.
A deeply engaged breath is like a trusted guide, taking your hand, walking you down the long corridors of your soul; the ones that you forgot existed. It’s an opportunity to reconnect to your higher self and to the universe around you.
Your body is a vast ocean, flowing with massive wisdom. Layers of wild textures, curving and bending in all directions. Prana — the raw energy of your being — is the undercurrent, holding it all together. It’s the foundation of what you are. From it, the form of your being sprung to life.
But the thing is: We lose connection to it. Oftentimes, we don’t allow ourselves to be penetrated by the depth of it in our physical world. And that’s when the problems start. Because losing touch with our prana robs us of our natural energy, passion, and wellbeing.
Pranayama is the map that brings us back home. Conscious breathing has the ability to get down in there, to stir the very bottom of the pot, where all the good stuff lies. An intentional breath can do a number of things — expand energy in the body, direct prana toward a certain region, make you more present, infuse your body with a tangible sense of vitality…There’s no limit to what the practice of pranayama can do.
The best way to begin is to start engaging your complete breath, which consists of four parts.
Here are the four parts, along with their Sanskrit terms…
Part 1: Inhale ~ Puraka
Part 2: Pause at the end of inhale ~ Abhyantara Kumbhaka
Part 3: Exhale ~ Rechaka
Part 4: Pause at the end of exhale ~ Bahya Kumbhaka
Puraka, the inhale, shouldn’t be rushed. Set the tempo slowly, so that you have a strong position from which to navigate the other three parts of the breath. Feel the breath as it comes through the nose, and really take in the sensations of the air passing through the nostrils. Let the breath be steady. Feel it filling up the lungs and expanding its way down into the belly. Avoid any impulse to end the inhale prematurely. Take it to its natural end.
For Abhyantara Kumbhaka, let the deep pause overtake you. Feel your body holding on to the fullness of the inhale. Delight in the sensation of it. Feel all of the power that you hold within the breath, and within your glorious being. This pause should feel good. If you’re straining or struggling to keep up with holding the breath, you’re not engaging in the practice from a centered place. If this is the case, you want to release the breath and start again. Allow this pause to be natural and to open up a dazzling stillness in the core of your spirit. Once it’s complete, you will know.
For Rechaka, the exhale, you should also allow for the breath to move back out slowly. Feel the air leaving your body. Give yourself up to the release. Imagine that the release of your breath is like a blessing that you are giving to the world. Feel the sensation that gets stirred in you as you do this.
And finally, for Bahya Kumbhaka, pause at the end of that exhale. Be in this place, with no expectations. Just sit, whole and complete, in the precious space of this pause. Don’t look for anything else. Don’t try to think or force your way into the next moment. Just be with this.
Try practicing Pranayama by gliding through the four parts of the complete breath. Let go of any inclination to rush, or tumble abruptly into the next moment.
Blessings to you as you continue to deepen your practice!