Pranayama Breathing

Hello Everyone, happy sunny Sunday evening! What a weekend we had, huh? Just when we thought summer *might* not come…whammo! AND, how about those Canucks. What a weekend, indeed.

While I was teaching class this morning I had the thought that I want to write a bit about the breathing exercises in the Bikram practice. We do two of them, we do them everyday, and yet there is not a huge amount of explanation of them in class…so, here we go.

The first breathing exercise (first exercise at all) is Pranayama Standing Deep Breathing. It is good for the lungs and respiratory system. It is designed to expand your lungs to their maximum expansion capacity, improve the elasticity of the lungs and begin to get the body warmed from the inside by activating the cardiovascular and circulatory systems. You breathe IN by the nose and OUT by the mouth, but all the time breathing THROUGH the throat. Are you still with me? What does this mean, “through the throat”? I’ll have to tell you that explaining pranayama breathing has got to be one of the hardest things to do in teaching this practice! Some people “get” it right away and others take a longer time to understand…some people think they are doing it, but are still breathing using the nose and mouth. Think of it this way…the throat becomes like a wind tunnel (Sandra reminded me of this this morning, something she heard Owl mention in class). It was not too long ago that I told my class in pranayama to make it sound like they are “passing wind”….haha, oopsie, maybe not the right way to phrase it! The sound that the breath makes as it passes through the throat is like a wind tunnel-on the inhale AND the exhale-the strength of the sound of inhale and exhale should be equally loud.  Some teachers describe it as a “snoring sound/sensation in the back of the throat”, some say for the exhale “imagine you are fogging a mirror on the ceiling”. It could be any/all of these things, if that is what helps YOU understand it! Be mindful if you are feeling/hearing/making a “snoring sound” that you are not rasping (is that the right term?) your throat…that is probably a good way for a beginner to start to feel it in his or her throat, but long term affect of that gravelly sound may be harmful to the throat, I would think.

Me helping a student in Sidney understand the Prayayama Breathing

When you learn to use the throat and keep the nose and mouth as only the passage for the air, it’s almost like you don’t even feel the air in the nose or mouth at all, only in the throat. It’s quite miraculous, actually! Try right now just taking a deep breath in through your nose, like your sniffing a big sniff of a flower…go ahead, try it, I’ll wait………………did you do it? Did you notice that you had to puff up your chest and the breath was full very quickly? (That’s what I notice when I do that) Now try starting with full lungs and exhaling the breath very quickly through your mouth…did you notice again that it is over very fast? When  you use your nose and mouth to breathe, a large amount of air passes very quickly in or out. In pranayama deep breathing, we are trying to stretch the lungs to expand to their maximum. It is said that we don’t utilize our full lung capacity in normal breathing, “The average total lung capacity of an adult human male is about 6 litres of air, but only a small amount of this capacity is used during normal breathing”, (Wikipedia). There is varying information on how much of the lung capacity we actually use during the normal breathing…but let’s just say it’s “only a small amount”, just to keep it simple ;). So…back to the pranayama…when you are able to understand the use of the throat, and that the nose and mouth are only the passageway, you are then able to start to pull more air into the lungs at a slower pace thereby allowing you to stretch and expand your lungs to their fullest.

Now, we do the inhale and the exhale to a count of 6. As a beginner it is very normal to only be able to breathe in for maybe 3 or 4 seconds and then breathe out for 3 or 4 seconds…do not fret, Puppies, this is normal and as your lungs improve, you will be able to use the full SIX seconds! If you are having trouble breathing for that long, just breathe in as long as you can and then hold it (lungs full and lungs empty)…this will start to encourage the lungs to improve and stretch and you will be inhaling and exhaling like a super yogi in no time!

Benefits of pranayama deep breathing include increased oxygen absorption into the cells, helps prevent respiratory problems such as bronchitis, emphysema and shortness of breath.  On a personal note, I find prayayama deep breathing to be very beneficial for calming the nerves and lowering stress levels…it’s like a fail-proof focus enhancer for me!

That’s all I got for ya on the Pranayama Standing Deep Breathing. It may seem daunting at the beginning, but once you learn to do the breathing exercise effectively and efficiently, you will wonder why you didn’t learn this years ago!

INhale breathing

EXhale breathing

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