How breath meditation & pranayama help your yoga.
The benefits of doing both.
Breath meditation (also known as pranayama), will improve your asana (or yoga postures). So, if you’re interested in options like “meditation and yoga classes near me”, or “breath meditation courses near me”, then see how yoga and meditation work best together.
The reason yoga and meditation reinforce each other, is that in order to improve your body via asana, you to quieten your mind.
In this regard, every yoga pose has different stages. They are:
- entry to the pose
- staying in the pose; and
- getting to be mentally quiet and reflective in the pose.
When you get reflective, it allows you to correct and alter your understanding of the pose, and your ability to do the pose.
In addition, when you get your mind quiet enough, the workings of your mind also become more obvious to you.
For example, with a quiet mind, you can see things like:
- your likings
- your dislikings
- your blind spots
- how you act and react from habit, fears, and anxieties.
All of these matters, and more, become obvious to you when you stop your active focus on “doing” the pose, and you settle into your breath (and thereby your mind).
Garudasana at Litchfield National Park
An example of a standing pose that is best able to be done when your pranayama and yoga reinforce each other
Stop “doing” the pose so much
The way to learn to stop “doing”, is to watch or focus on your breath.
In other words, you focus on steady inhalation, and exhalation.
That ability to focus on your breath lets you stay longer, and thereby also gets your body stronger.
But to stay longer, you need to be able to stay there without unduly stressing your body.
For instance, if you’re just doing the pose via pure determination, you won’t be able to conserve energy, and maximise the length of your hold.
In addition, you won’t get as much of the strength building and other benefits the pose might otherwise give you.
You can only stay longer, in the way that is desirable, when you have settled on your breath, and you are focussed on your inhalation and exhalation.
For instance, plenty of yoga practitioners, if you tell them to hold a pose for 3 minutes, then they could do so.
But, the issue is, can you hold the pose in a calm, reflective manner.
Achieving a moving meditation
When you approach your asana with an awareness of the breath, you move towards what Mr BKS Iyengar called “moving meditation.”
The definition of moving meditation is where you are integrated in body and breath, with quietened senses, and with a quietened mind.
It’s also why Mr Iyengar said the breath is the gateway between asana and mind.
I’ll go on to outline more about what he meant.
In balancing poses, such as in this video, you won’t balance securely, and also conserve your energy to the ideal extent, unless you are using your breath correctly.
Achieving bodily intelligence
Yoga approaches the body in terms of different “layers”.
- breath or breathing
Intelligence, in this sense, means the ability to identify issues, and make distinctions between them.
It includes being able to reflect on your action or thoughts, as well as have the ability to transform them.
In particular, it means that you are not governed by emotion.
The special role of pranayama
So pranayama is the key to the process of distinguishing between the layers of self.
Pranayama takes you from your physical endeavour, to understanding the potential to transform yourself on a much deeper level of experience.
In the process, you gain self-knowledge.
It also means that your breath, and breathing correctly, is the journey to experiential knowledge (or gaining knowledge from experience).
After over 25 years of yoga and pranayama, and studying many of the major pranayama texts, I am thoroughly convinced about what I have outlined.
I have learnt what I’ve outlined from the great practitioners of yoga and pranayama.
In addition, I know its right, because I have experienced it in my own practice.
When I can’t do poses to my satisfaction
As you know, I regularly do outdoor photo shoots and videos.
But I can’t do poses in nature when I’m not in touch with my body or breath.
So, before I can get you a good picture of an asana, or a video that I am sufficiently happy with, I have to settle into my body and breath.
Sometimes, I just have tell my photographer to chill out, and wait for me to settle!
In other words, holding a pose, and holding it as well as it should be done, is a function of the mind.
My point is that how long you can hold a standing pose is ideally a function of where you are in the mind.
All of what I have outlined is the journey towards mastering yoga, pranayama, self-knowledge, and more.
Teacher Trainees are assessed on how they use their breath
As some of you know, I am also an Iyengar Yoga Assessor.
That means I sometimes sit on the independent panel of Senior Teachers who assess if Australia’s various teacher trainees are to be certified as Iyengar Yoga teachers.
I know from this experience that, among other things, the Assessors on such panels are looking at the breath, and the skin colour of teacher trainees, as they do the two hour asana sequence that is part of getting certified.
In terms of skin colour, I mean things like whether the trainees go reddish or flushed in the face from the impact of certain poses.
In the process, the Assessors are asking questions like how deeply they are going into the pose, via the use of their breath.
For instance, I have noticed that very experienced Senior Teachers, such as Mark Gibson, (who has done Workshops at Flametree), can quickly assess if a yoga practitioner is not breathing in a way that takes them into the pose.
Among other things, such Assessors are considering if you are staying in the pose just from grit and determination They are watching to see if you’re staying in the pose, and are able to stay in it, because of your focus on your breath (and thereby via your mind).
In a balancing pose, as I’ve mentioned, you can of course balance just from determination, but you will relatively quickly be exhausted from it.
In summary, the Assessors, as you are in the pose, are looking to see if you are also in your mind, or using your mind as part of the asana.
Yoga and pranayama reinforce each other
All this means that yoga and pranayama work together.
When I’m teaching a yoga class, I can, and do, constantly look at the students so as to assess many things.
My observations include who is in the pose via their mind. Among other things, those who are not, are likely to be reddish in the face, or get red in the face more quickly.
So, as part of doing yoga that delivers all that it should, especially its many mental benefits, you also need to master your breath, via pranayama.
The upcoming mini retreat will be a great kickstart to pranayama, and to achieving greater asana mastery in your regular classes.
As I’ve said, it’s because yoga and pranayama work best together. They each reinforce the other.
In other words, pranayama gets you more present in the moment. As a result, you can get more present in your asana.
Forward bends, such as in the video, or any forward bends, as also best done with a meditative mind.
Prashant Iyengar view
I’ll conclude by telling you about something I learnt in Pune, in India, where I’ve heard Prashant Iyengar talk about the matters I’ve outlined. (Prashant is a son of the late Mr BKS Iyengar).
For instance, Prashant says that Westerners sometimes come to Pune classes looking for new yoga techniques that they can rush back home with.
But, he says, when you do this, you are not being present. You are not working to construct an internal journey for yourself. Instead, your brain is just looking for the latest thing.
Therefore, he says that you are not being present to the journey the asana/s can provide to you.
Prashant means that yoga is not being a vehicle to quieten your mind, and help you travel inwards to greater self-knowledge.
For example, let’s consider the yoga poses that are balancing poses, such as Tree Pose, or Warrior 3. In such balancing poses, you won’t balance securely, and also conserve your energy to the ideal extent, unless you are using your breath correctly.
Among other things, it’s for this reason that, on photo shoots, I can sometimes do the poses to my satisfaction, and other days I come home with few or no photos or videos to my satisfaction.
The same is also true of forward bends with long holds, such as in the videos I’ve shown with this Post.
No difficult posture needed!
In pranayama, no particular breath meditation postures are needed, as long as your back is straight.
So build it into your life, starting with our short courses like the Easter meditation retreat. This short breath meditation course is also run occasionally at other times during the year.
Flametree’s next course, or pranayama retreat, is 4 introductory classes over 4 days, at Easter 2023.
The classes will give you a convenient in-studio or online meditation retreat, followed by 10 free weekly pranayama classes. Follow the link to Flametree’s Easter breathwork training and pranayama course. (It’s called a retreat because it’s an intensive over the Easter period. In addition, each pranayama class is followed by an asana class. Though they each can be bought as separate packages.).
Flametree’s Easter retreat 2023
Flametree’s Easter retreat is online and in-studio in Darwin NT.
The daily schedule is 4 days of 45 minute introductory breath meditation at 8.30am. If you wish, it’s followed by a mixed level hatha yoga class at 9.30am.
You can buy the four pranayama classes as a package, with a retreat cost of $59 (at the early bird rate until midnight on 31 March 2023).
For beginner breath meditators, Flametree short meditation courses are a great way to start. (But you do first need at least 3 months of beginner yoga, so as to ensure your spine and chest will support you in a suitable way).
For introductory yoga, you can start to be a yogi at any of our ongoing beginner classes, or via the periodic Beginner Yoga Introductions.
If you just come along to a beginner yoga class, the teacher adjusts course material for whoever is in the actual class on the day. So the class it always a level suitable for you.
The online classes are done simultaneously with the in-studio class. The teacher can see you, and hear you, and you get LIVE feedback.
If you’ve already done at least 3 months of beginner yoga, just come along to our Easter meditation course.
Ongoing non-beginner pranayama meditation packages and class times
All non-beginner packages, including ten class passes, at Flametree Yoga, include pranayama breathing meditation weekly classes.
In the non-beginner timetable, the two existing breath meditation classes are at 6.30am on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The two weekly pranayama classes are both LIVE online or in-studio. Pranayama works especially well online, and is extremely convenient.
Pranayama is taught by Flametree’s popular & certified Senior Yoga Teacher, Chris Lalor (pictured above). She’s been studying pranayama, and doing pranayam, for over 25 years.
If you wish, check out the many very positive reviews and stories from students about Flametree yoga and meditation.
In addition, you can see and hear more about the many poses that are taught, at beginner or non-beginner level, on Flametree’s TikTok page.
On this page, you’ll also find our most popular packages for both beginner and non-beginner yoga.