By Kate Duncan.
This is Blog Post Number Four in our Why You Don’t need a mat to practice Yoga series.
In post one and two we broke down the Yama’s and Nimayas, which are all about our moral and ethical principals. Then, in our last post, we tackled Asana, which is the physical shapes we make with our body that we generally just called “yoga” in the west.
In this blog, we will delve deeper into the fourth limb called Pranayama, which is how we control our breath.
To remind you, here is an overview of the eight limbs of Yoga.
The eight limbs
- Yama (ethical standards or integrity)
- Niyama (self-disciple and spiritual observances)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breathing techniques, or breath control)
- Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (contemplation, or meditative absorption)
- Samadhi (liberation, bliss or enlightenment)
The fourth Limb: Pranayama
Pranayama is usually understood as controlling the breath. What it really means, however, is to control “ayama” our life force “prana”. In other words, how we control the life force that gives us breath.
The ancient yogis believed that we weren't born with a certain amount of time, rather with a certain number of breaths. With this belief in mind, we could add fullness and length to our lives by learning to control our breath.
Breath is the reason for life, it is everything. Great peace and relaxation can come from Pranayama. There are many ways throughout our life that we unconsciously alter the natural flow of breath. When we are stressed, busy or afraid, we activate the sympathetic nervous system, or the Flight/Fight system. This makes our breath shorter, faster and shallower.
Through our life, as we suffer from different kinds of stressors, we can develop habitual patterns of breathing. Often, we aren’t used to using the fullness of breath. As we practice controlling our life force we soften restricted muscles, allow our belly to fully expand and use all parts of our lungs.
This brings immense relaxation and a sense of peacefulness.
There are also pranayama techniques used to energise and heat the body, and ones to balance the body. There are many resources to read about all of them, but I wanted to offer you one simple technique that you can do at any time.
Simple Pranayama for Beginners
Find a comfortable place to sit, preferably upright unless you have an injury that prevents it.
Notice a few breaths, just as they are, without trying to change them. Your mind may be busy, that's ok, simply notice both the state of your mind and the state of your breath. Then…
- Count to four as you inhale, at any pace that you like.
- Hold your breath, just for a count of one or two. Try not to struggle or force anything
- Count to four as you exhale
- Hold your breath for a count of one or two without forcing
And that’s it. It's so simple. You can do this for a few minutes, even set a timer if you wish. When you are finished, sit quietly and notice the effects on your body and mind.