Pranayama Made Easy — Yoga Breathing
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2004 issue of Healing Lifestyles Magazine.
By Scott Shaw
Modern society moves at such a fast pace that we inevitably find ourselves needing periodic energy revitalization just to keep up with the daily grind. We often try to remedy this with caffeinated drinks or sugar-filled foods. In addition to the obvious health detriments, there are problems with supplementing your energy in this fashion. Though you may be temporarily uplifted, your metabolism will quickly seek to find its own balance, leaving you more drained than ever.
How can you rapidly, healthfully rejuvenate your body and mind in times of need? The natural method, one that instantly provides renewed vigor, is thousands of years old and involves nothing more than taking a few very conscious breaths.
The air we breathe is our passport to life. We can live a few days without water, several days without food, but the moment oxygen is taken away from us, our physical bodies immediately begin to pass away. It therefore stands to reason that not only is breathing the most essential element to life, but that breathing correctly will enhance the overall quality of your life.
Modern health science teaches us that through exercise the human body takes in larger amounts of oxygen than is required for simple human existence. This results not only in a stronger cardiovascular system but also a state of enhanced physical and mental health. Look at the athlete who participates in a cardiovascular sport and you’ll see someone who possesses a superior sense of physical and mental well-being and an enormous amount of energy. On the other hand, observe sedentary individuals and you’ll commonly find people who are listless and lacking motivation.
Though physical exercise is proven to be important to your health, it is not always possible for you to revitalize through exercise—particularly when you find yourself time-crunched and dragging at the end of a workday spent primarily behind a desk. Fortunately, there is another way for you to tap into the energy level experienced by the consummate athlete. That method is known by the ancient Sanskrit word, pranayama.
Pranayama is the science of breath control first practiced in India thousands of years ago. The ancient techniques of pranayama teach you how to consciously take control over your breathing and bring more life-giving oxygen into your body. From these simple but precise exercises, you can revitalize your entire being whenever and wherever you feel the need.
The ancient breath control exercises presented here are not abstract metaphysical techniques that will take years of training under the guidance of a spiritual teacher to master. They are simple, proven practices that can be implemented virtually anywhere. Some of them do not even require that you make any physical movements. Therefore, you will be able to perform them in the presence of others without drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.
Basic Energy-Enhancing Breath
Benefits: This breath control exercise will provide you with instant energy revitalization and enhanced mental focus.
Technique: Begin right where you are. Sit up. Straighten your spine. Move your neck around a little bit to relieve any initial tension. Close your eyes. Observe your natural breathing pattern for a few moments. Witness each life-giving breath enter your body through your nose. Mentally watch it travel deep into your lungs as your stomach expands. Consciously recognize that breath is your key to life—it is the universal gift that allows you to function. Observe this breath permeating your being with the essence of life.
After you have observed a few natural breath cycles, deliberately take in a very deep breath through your mouth. The moment your lungs are full, immediately release it through your mouth. As soon as the breath has been exhaled, take another deep breath through your mouth. Again, once your lungs become full, release it through your mouth.
Practice this for three or four breath cycles and then allow yourself to breathe naturally through your nose for a few moments. As you do, experience how your body instantly became revitalized through the rapid intake of air.
After a few moments of contemplation, take this breath control technique to the next level. Take in a powerful, deep breath through your mouth. Let this breath expand your chest and stomach. Breathe in as much life-giving air as possible. As soon as your lungs are filled with this breath, close your mouth and hold your breath for approximately two seconds, consciously embracing its power. Now, release this breath through your mouth in one smooth exhalation. Continue to exhale until your lungs are completely empty.
If you are like most people who have not previously practiced formalized breath control, you will notice that a small amount of air remains in your lungs. Through the majority of your life this remaining breath goes unnoticed. Once you begin to consciously practice breath control, however, you become acutely aware of your respiratory system. You must contract your upper abdomen muscles to force the remaining air out of your lungs. With this, you not only expel environmental pollutants that have found their way into your lungs, but you also begin to train your body to utilize the breath in the most beneficial manner—full inhalations and full exhalations.
Once all of the air has been expelled from your lungs, embrace the absence of breath. Experience the lightness of your body when air is completely absent from your lungs. After approximately two seconds of reflection, take in another deep breath and then release it following the same pattern.
Perform this exercise for three or four cycles. Once you have completed the final cycle, open your eyes, observing how the world possesses a new hue due to your body being revitalized by enhanced amounts of oxygen.
The Calming Breath
Sukha Purvaka: The Easy Breath
Benefits: Sukha purvaka is designed to quickly calm your mind and lower your cardiovascular rate in times of stress. It is also an excellent technique to practice prior to meditation, as it invokes a clear and positive state of mind.
Technique: While sitting comfortably with your hands in your lap, close your eyes, straighten your spine, and watch your breath naturally come in and then leave your body. Embrace the life-giving force of each breath.
When you feel ready, close off your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale slowly and naturally through your left nostril. When your in-breath is complete, allow this breath to leave your body naturally, also through your left nostril. Perform this exercise for twelve breaths.
When you have completed your final exhalation, place your right hand back down in your lap, raise your left hand, and close off your left nostril for the same twelve natural breaths. When you have completed this repetition, place both hands in your lap and relax for a few moments. You will rise in a very calm state of mind, and your mental clarity will be acutely focused.
For additional information about Pranayama and Yoga Breathing check out Scott Shaw’s Book:
The Little Book of Yoga Breathing: Pranayama Made Easy
Copyright © 2004 — All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.