BREATHING Tara Jacobson THE ROLE OF BREATH IN YOGA • How important is the breath to health? We can go three weeks without food, three days without water but we cannot go three minutes without breathing. The aim is to learn to breathe optimally for good health. • We all know how to breathe—we've been doing it since birth. But do you breathe correctly? Many of us breathe in a shallow manner, only filling the top two thirds of our lungs. This is called a “chest breath.” The shoulders rise and the chest expands with each inhalation. In yoga there is great emphasis on breathing and breathing correctly. • Pranayama is yogic breath control. Yogis and Yoginis (female Yogis) use breath training to manipulate their prana or life force. To break down the word, prana is “that which is infinitely everywhere” and ayama is “stretch or extend” and is the action of pranayama. The best way to describe prana is a life force or energy that is everywhere and can be manifested through the breath. Prana is not oxygen or the breath itself, but the life energy that fills all living things—a universal energy. • How does prana work? According to yoga scripture prana flows through the body along specific pathways on either side of the spine; ida on the left and pingala on the right. The left side represents the moon and the right side represents the sun. Energy also runs down the spinal cord. This pathway is called sushumna. THE USE OF BREATH IN YOGA Breath should lead the asana. When a yogi begins a pose it should be in union with the breath and the inhalation or exhalation should be the catalyst for that movement. In static (held still) poses, the yogi should breathe fully throughout the pose. During especially challenging asanas, some students will hold their breath. A yoga teacher may give cues during these challenging asanas as a reminder to breath. There are many styles of breathing, each with a purpose and result. For the purpose of this class, Ujjayi breathing is used most often. The use of a single breath will help new students become familiar with this breathing style and become proficient at it. COMMON YOGA BREATHS: Ujjayi: Victorious Breath Ujjai breath or victorious breath is soothing to the nerves, cools the head, helps digestion and brings mental clarity. Inhale through the nose keeping the lips closed. Soften the tongue and jaw and fill the lungs from the bottom up. Slowly exhale allowing the air to flow over the vocal cords creating a vibration in the back of the throat. This will create a humming/whisper noise. Allow yourself to become aware of the rhythm of your breath. The audible sound should only be heard by you or possibly those close by but not so loud that the class can hear. Full Complete Breath Inhale through the nose, filling the entire abdominal cavity with air. The feeling should be that you are filling your lungs in three-‐ dimensional space: bottom to top, forward and back, side to side. The shoulders and chest should not rise or move. Retain the breath for a few beats, and then slowly exhale through the nose, emptying lungs completely. Sitali: Cooling Breath Sitali or cooling breath is healing to the body, rids the body of excessive heat and activates the liver. Soften the face and mouth, roll the tongue into a tube then poke the tongue between the lips. Suck the air in through the tongue like sipping water through a straw. When you have completely filled your lungs, draw the tongue back into your mouth and close the lips. Hold the air in the lungs for a few seconds then slowly exhale through the nose. Cleansing Breath: The Cleansing Breath, cleans and ventilates the lungs along with toning up the entire system. Cleansing breath is typically done at the end of other yoga exercises or just before the final relaxation. Stand straight with feet close together and arms hanging loosely at the sides. Take a deep breath, hold it for a little while, then purse your lips as if you were going to whistle. Now start exhaling forcefully, little by little, but do not blow the air out as if you were blowing out a candle, and do not puff out the cheeks. They should be hollowed. These successive and forceful exhalations will feel almost like slight coughs which expel the air until the lungs are completely empty. The effort of the exhalation should be felt in the chest and in the back. Alternate Nostril Breath: In this Breathing Technique, you inhale through one nostril, retain the breath, and exhale through the other nostril in various ratios. The left nostril is the path of the Nadi called Ida and the right nostril is the path of the Nadi called Pingala. Alternate Nostril Breath restores, equalizes and balances the flow of Prana in the body. In Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breath), you adopt the Vishnu Mudra with your right hand to close your nostrils. Tuck your index and middle finger into your nose. Place the thumb by your right nostril and your ring and little fingers by your left. 1. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds. 2. Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round. 3. Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round. Typical ration is 1:2. Inhale 4, exhale 8 (4-‐8-‐4-‐8). Working up to Inhale 8, Exhale 16 (8-‐16-‐8-‐16). Start by doing three rounds, adding one per week until you are doing seven rounds. *Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications. In pranayama, it is important not to force anything. If you use the nostrils for breath control, they should be unobstructed. If they are not, practice throat breathing. Three part breath: Three part breath involves breathing sequentially into the three parts of the lungs. The abdomen (lower section of the lungs), ribcage, and chest (up to the clavicle).
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