Theme of the Month- March- Pranayama- Where the Magic Happens
I’m not going to lie, in my pre-yoga teacher training days I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with pranayama. Don’t get me wrong, pranayama now has my heart, no ‘love-hate relationship’ anymore…it’s all love these days.
And if you’re not sure what pranayama is, it is essentially a breath work practice. Prana is life force energy, it’s in the food we eat, the air we breathe, anything which makes us feel vibrant and alive. Ayama is a Sanskrit word that means expansion, breadth or to stretch. Of course, there’s lots more to it than this, but, in a nutshell, pranayama could be understood simply as ‘to expand the breath’.
I came to discover my love of yoga through a pranayama shaped side-door when recovering from a serious dose of a chest infection (we’re talking hospital admissions, blue lights, the whole shebang). My research into breathing exercises led me to yoga classes, which led me to Falmouth Yoga Space and the rest is history. So really I owe my yoga teaching life to pranayama, but I also owe it a bit of an apology.
I may have, possibly, just a tiny bit, been guilty of calling it “boring”. There, I said it. I might even have wanted to skip pranayama to get to “the good bit” (stretching and sweating). The truth is I didn’t understand the practice and I can now honestly say I don’t find pranayama boring any more, in fact, I think it IS the good bit. Here’s a whistlestop tour of why…
Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga and it massively pre-dates the physical yoga shapes we all know and love today. In fact, it is mentioned in the ancient yogic texts such as the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras, which are thousands of years old (in comparison the physical poses we do are at most a few hundred years old).
Pranayama can be calming and soothing, energising, cooling, heating, balancing or grounding. There is quite literally something for everyone and every situation. I always turn to a few rounds of dirga pranayama (three part breath) whenever I feel that familiar anxiety feeling starting to creep in. For times that balance is required, there’s nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing). And you cannot beat a perfectly timed sitali breath to cool you down in one of Keren’s mid-summer lotus flow classes!
By breathing slowly and mindfully, we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system- our rest and digest response. This means that pranayama can reduce stress, anxiety and high blood pressure and it can improve concentration, mood and sleep quality. It can also help to strengthen your lungs and improve their function, making it an excellent tool for people with asthma, or, in my case back in the day, pneumonia and pleurisy.
Pranayama brings your attention into the present moment. I would argue that it is simply not possible to plan what you’re going to have for dinner or worry if you said the wrong thing in that meeting whilst fully concentrating on your breathing. This is why pranayama can be a fantastic tool to lead us into meditation. Which essentially is the goal of yoga…but I’ll save that for another blog.
If you’re coming to classes this month, you’ll more than likely partake in a whole plethora of pranayama practices. Let’s give this wonderful, ancient practice the credit it deserves. After all, it’s where the magic happens.