A Sanskrit word,
with universal purpose.
A Definition: (Note that in the Sanskrit language, the meaning of words or phrases are carried within the vibrations and undulations of sound. And so direct translation is not a complete interpretation. As with much in the Sanskrit language, the words must be felt as a practice by the individual and interpreted by each person. This is the case especially with Pranayama- the Practice of Breath Control).
Pranayama: The conscious regulation (Yama) of Breath in meditative respiratory practices to extend life force energy (Prana) with a purpose to clear blockages, open energetic channels, balance hormone levels, strengthen the diaphragm, increase flexibility of the lungs, sweep the ego, and calm the inner talk.
Why is the Conscious Breath Important?
As a general view of mass society, we run about huffing and puffing (me included!) about projects nearing deadlines, insecurities, and stress overloads allowing anxieties to overtake our ability to navigate consciously with an open heart. Compassion towards the Self rests in the centre of our turbulent society, waiting as a small seed to be nurtured into fruition.
Through compassionate acts of love towards ourselves, and treating ourselves as though we truly deserve to breathe this breath and to be here, we resonate out positivity and affect all our circles of family, friends, coworkers, even strangers on the street. One of the most humbling ways to reconnect with oneself, and to spend a little time admiring the complexities of your being, is to tune into the breath. I find a lot of comfort in the affirmation that Breath is the Language Between Body and Mind. In saying that, I’m suggesting that the breath carries meaning and is not so literally translated (just like a Sanskrit word), and it is the individual’s experience as they breathe and interpret their inner terrain of body/mind/spirit.
When I tune into my breathing when I’m say, in line at the grocery store, I can notice if I’m holding my breath, if it’s filtering through tightly, or if I’m breathing quickly… And rather than ‘correcting’ myself to stand up straight and breathe deeply, I ‘Offer’ myself the opportunity- which translates into a whole lot of self love and appreciation that causes my shoulders to melt, my jaw to unlock, and my heart to soften with compassionate awe for myself and all beings.
Just try it. Take a deep breath in, then out. Then notice if you’re comfortable and if not adjust so that you are. Allow the eyes to close. Breathe deeply in and out through the nostrils, allowing your belly, ribs and chest to expand on inhales, and release pressure gently on exhales. See if you can imagine the breath moving up and down the front of the body, the sides of your body, and the back of your body.Take at least 5 deep breaths in and out.
How does it feel?
I remember when it first occurred to me that Pranayama was a go-to practice that is always accessible no matter where I am. I’d been practicing meditation and pranayama for awhile, but it wasn’t until a teacher said ‘Fear and Breath Don’t Live in The Same Place’, that it really clicked for me. Pranayama does not always have to be done on a meditation cushion, in a Yoga class, or while wearing a bunch of mala beads sporting really nice yoga pants. Pranayama is a practice rooted in the steadfast trust that when I approach myself from a state of non-judgmental observation I can choose to go through the door of the fearless breath. This fearless breath communicates to my body and mind from the inside out that I am safe, I am enough, I am whole, I am full, and I am constantly changing and growing with my shifting inhales and exhales- and that’s natural.
If breathing is so natural how come it’s so common for people to breathe ‘incorrectly’?
Stress is a huge factor. Stress triggers our nervous system to increase cortisol- a stress responding hormone, that sends signals to all our muscles to get bound up tightly as there seems to be a need for defence or opposition. Cortisol levels heighten our fight or flight response- this is our base instinctual survival mode. It is rooted in closing oneself off, declining trust (even in oneself), and gearing our thought patterns to consider hypothetical scenarios as we try and discover a way out of what we are experiencing.
The beauty of Pranayama practice really rests in that it’s a safe practice, and there are various styles of Pranayama to choose from that serve to challenge or comfort you. Sometimes challenging oneself with intense or prolonged Pranayama can serve one well as it can teach us to ride out the heat of a situation with breath and presence. And sometimes we really need to relax and find an easy wave-like breath that supports the cooling of the body and mind.
October 30th I’ll be leading a Yogic Breathing Workshop at Tone Studio where we’ll practice many different styles of Pranayama.. Participants will be encouraged to discuss how Pranayama can be integrated into the ‘daily life’ and how one can draw further insight into self-study through the conscious practice.
In this workshop we will explore:
- The interrelation of breath through the many layers of our being:
(Physical, Emotional, Psychological, & Energetic)
- Traditional practices of Pranayama and their use
- Contraindications and benefits
- What it’s like to consciously breathe and settle your energy in a room with others doing the same
Come to this workshop in loose, comfortable clothing, bring a journal and a pen if you’d like, and an open pair of lungs.