You may have heard your yoga teacher talking about pranayama but do you actually know what it is? Most people just think of pranayama as ‘breathing exercises’ which is technically true but pranayama is much more interesting than that.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is a sanskrit word which means that various translations and interpretations exist. It is, however, agreed that it comes from two words.
The first word is ‘prana’ which is usually translated to life force / energy but is also known as ‘vital air’. You may have heard of Chi (or Qi) in other traditions referring to the life force. Prana is this same energy. Although this energy is present in the breath, it is not only present in the breath, prana exists everywhere, but we can move it around the body via the breath.
The second word is a bit more controversial. Some say that it is ‘yama’ which translates to control/restraint whilst others believe it is ‘ayama’ which is the opposite of that, to not control or restrain ie to expand. So using that translation, pranayama would be either the control and restraint of the vital air or expanding the vital air.
I like to think that it is both. We are regulating the breath in order to expand and free up energy in the body.
Why practice pranayama?
There are many different styles of yoga but one common feature in all of them is the breath. The breath is thought to be connected to the mind and when the breath moves, the mind moves with it. The pauses between the breath are generally the times when the mind is very quiet. Try it…
There is a famous quote by Alan Cohen which says:
“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts”
Don’t believe in God? No problem, replace that word with ‘truth’, ‘stillness’ or ‘peace’.
In our pranayama practice, we use the breath to move energy around the body, often working towards finding a sense of equilibrium.
There are pranayama techniques for heating, cooling, balancing the left and right sides of the body, encouraging the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, cleansing and digestion, plus of course, calming the mind.
Want to add some breathing into your day? See “Three Easy Breathing Techniques to Calm Your Mind”