Pranayama: More Than Just Breathing

Have you ever heard of the term “Pranayama” before? If you’re new to the world of yoga and meditation, it’s probably not a word in your daily vocabulary. But it’s a very important one for you to be aware of and something that you’ll learn to master at the Roswell meditation center.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “an extension of the prana” (prana means breath or life force) or, more simply, “breath control.” Therefore, pranayama is about controlling your breathing and practicing breathing exercises originating from ancient India. When you practice pranayama, you are purifying your body and mind by controlling, regulating, and channeling your prana (again, your breath or life force).

Pranayama encompasses a variety of breathing exercises and techniques, designed to bring about positive changes into our lives. The more control you have over your breath, over your prana, the more control you have over your thoughts and mind, which leads to more control over your life.

For most of us, breathing is automatic, something we take for granted. We don’t do it consciously, until obviously, you start thinking about it. And hopefully by now, after reading about the importance of breathing, you’re aware of your own breaths. You could be intentionally trying to breathe erratically, just to “prove” your control, or you’re trying not to overthink and struggling to breathe as you normally would, or you’re starting to try taking in full, deep breaths and thinking about satisfying it feels.

Let’s concentrate on the third type of breathing with a simple exercise.

  1. Sit upright in a chair, spine straight, or lay down with your back on the floor.
  2. Relax yourself entirely. Don’t force your breathing. If your throat is tense, it will be more difficult for air to move throughout your body.
  3. Place your fingers lightly on your lower belly and breathe in.
  4. As you breathe in, try to bring your breath down into your lower belly. If you don’t succeed at first, keep trying! Just breathe in and out, slowly and deeply, until the fingers on your belly move with your breath.
  5. Now move both of your hands to rest lightly on the space just under your collarbones. This is your upper chest. Stay relaxed while trying to bring your breath into this part of your body.
  6. When you are able to breathe into both your lower belly and upper chest, concentrate on your back. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to try and twist your hands and arms back there.) Take in a very slow, very deep breath. Concentrate on feeling the entire space of your back expanding like a balloon. Then slowly exhale, and feel the “balloon” deflate.
  7. Repeat the process of breathing fully into your lower belly, your upper chest, and your back, until you are able to do so naturally and comfortably with each breath.

Now you are conscious of your breathing and are aware of how you can control it. You probably even feel better after this simple exercise, so just think of what fully practicing pranayama can do.

At the Open Mind Center, pranayama is incorporated into our yoga and meditation classes. In yoga, breath is tied into movement, which makes pranayama an essential aspect. In meditation, pranayama helps make you more aware of yourself, an important part of any meditation practice. The instructor may not explicitly say “Okay, now we’re doing pranayama!” but they will be guiding you through very similar breathing exercises. Or, the instructor will say, “Okay, we’re going to practice a pranayama breathing exercise” and they will provide you with all the guidance you need to fully enjoy the benefits of a breathing technique that can help increase your energy, calm your mind, or increase lung capacity, among many other benefits.

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