It’s best to learn Pranayama yogic breathing in the Savasana lying position, & then progress to the Seated position.
In his book “Light on Light”, B.K.S. Iyengar starts the chapter that deals with Pranayama yogic breathing with these words:
Everyone desires more energy. If energy could be packaged and sold in shops it would be the most successful business ever.
Merely taking about energy excites and energises people. Where can we get it, people want to know.
Well not in packets and not in shops, because it is first everywhere, and second, it is free of charge.”
In the picture above, is one example of a blanket set up for Pranayama yogic breathing, when it is done lying down.
Using a Bolster under the legs to allow the back to relax further.
Prana is universal energy
Energy is given many names. In Sanskrit it is called pranic energy. In China it is called Chi. In Japan it is called Ki.
Pranayama is mostly translated as breath.
Pranayama yogic breathing refers to the extension, expansion, regulation, restraint, control and prolongation of breath.
To understand the wonder of pranayama yogic breathing, which is also sometimes called breath meditation, it is helpful to understand it in its widest possible manifestation.
Prana is universal life force.
Think of an inhalation; when you breath in, as breathing in from the universe. Then, when you exhale, or breath out, think of it as breathing out into the universe.
Yogic breathing practices to re-energise
Donna Hollman explains in “Dancing The Body Of Light”, that the ancients understood that the abdomen is the “store house” of energy.
The abdomen is the place where energy is stored, and food is digested, broken down and distributed to other parts of the body. During normal inhalation the abdomen obviously lifts up, and during exhalation it deflates.
Through quickening the breath on the exhalation (as in Kapalabhati and Bhastrika), it is possible to increase heat in that area, and use it to re-energise the whole body.
Ancient yogis realised that energy could be brought from the abdomen to the brain via the spinal column, so as to alter the practitioners state of mind.
Think of prana as energy that carries awareness.
The ancient yogis through their study of their breath discovered that at the end of each inhalation and exhalation, there is a natural pause.
Through investigating the pauses, and prolonging the pauses, they discovered that a vacuum is created on the exhalation. This vacuum pulls energy up the spine to the brain… which has the effect of substantially altering the consciousness of the practitioner.
A tool to explore the mind
Through the practice of pranayama we have the means to explore the mind and to ultimately bring the mind into a quiet place.
As B.K.S. Iyengar notes in “Light on Life”, the various breathing techniques are meditative in origin and in effect.
Whether one is lying or sitting to practise pranayama, the senses are drawn inward away from external disruptions.
In practices such as Bhramari or Ujjayi, the mind is able to be drawn inward through listening to the sound in the throat.
Pranayama yogic breathing calls us to account. The breath, in the words of Mr Iyengar, becomes “the king of the mind”.
For most of us it comes as a total shock at just how demanding pranayama is. After all, we all breathe without giving it a second thought.
So why should pranayama be so hard? It’s because pranayama is not normal breathing. It is mindful breathing.
You need will power to start, and you need will power to continue. That’s partly because many find it not only difficult at the beginning, but also boring (compared to practising asana, or yoga postures).
You need to appreciate that you cannot force the breath to lengthen, or to suspend the breath.
It takes time to strengthen and train the body to accept the extra energy that the practice will deliver; and it takes time to subdue the ego and accept where you are at each moment, each day.
Start a daily practice in yogic breathing
I think it is really important to try to practice daily.
It doesn’t have to be for a long period of time each day. But the more you practice the less likely you will be attached to results, and less disillusioned on the days when you feel the breath doesn’t come easily.
Some days you will leave the practice feeling refreshed and calm, and other days less so.
Start with Supported Savasana (lying down relaxing over folded blankets), after practising some restorative poses that both open your chest and quieten your nervous system.
Aim for 5-8 minutes in Savasana and practice 5-8 minutes in Ujjayi; and then rest in Savasana.
Your breath can become a true friend that is there for you for the rest of your life.
Your pranayama practice can tell you so much about yourself.
It helps you see the effects of your thoughts and actions. It also lets you see what are your habits and appreciate how it may be possible to change some of those habits and thoughts overtime.
Try Flametree’s regular Pranayama classes, online or in-studio
Like most yogic practices, you’re on the “fast track” if you come to class, and do pranayama yogic breathing at home.
Each week, Flametree has pranayama or breath meditation classes at these times: Tuesday 6.30 AM; Friday 6.30 AM & Sunday 7.30 AM.
During the week the classes are taught by Flametree’s Senior Teacher and founder, Christine Lalor. They are both online and in-studio. Pranayama works especially well online, and many of our students do it that way.
On Sundays, the class is taught by certified Iyengar Teacher, Margi Landrigan. It is online only.
There is more about both of teachers, here.
Try breath meditation, or yoga, or both
Pranayama is included in Flametree’s packages for both beginners, and non-beginners. It is a very low cost way to get dramatically improve the outcomes you’ll get from just doing yoga.
Learn more about Flametree’s beginner yoga or introductory breath meditation deals with a 2 week free trial, here.
The non-beginner or lapsed student deal (including pranayama), is here.