Posted by terrepruitt on September 3, 2015
You may be familiar with yoga. You know those stretching exercises people do? That is what many people think of as yoga, stretching and bending and making your body a pretzel. Well, the poses, the postures, the asana are a part of yoga. That is really only one part of eight. There are eight limbs of yoga. Another part is pranayama. I mentioned one in my post Breath: Quiet and Safe. In that post I also mentioned why I often compare Nia and yoga. First of all I believe that Nia has incorporated many things from yoga into Nia, so that is one reason why I talk about yoga and Nia. But I also talk about them being similar because Nia is a dance exercise and for many people that is all it is. And since cardio exercise is beneficial I think that is fine, if that is as far as people want to go with it. The same with yoga. Yoga is an exercise. You can just do the moves and, I believe through movement, gain many benefits. However, if you want to get more out of it, there are these other things that you can practice, and one of them is pranayama.
Now, Iyengar says “attempt pranayama only when the yoga asanas have been mastered.” Because that is what Patanjali says in the Yoga Sturas. But for many of us that means we would never do pranayama or if we did it would be years and years AFTER we have been practicing. Now, I am just starting to learn more about pranayama, so if you want to heed the master, by all means, please do. I think, however, that pranayama is beneficial so I don’t want to wait until I have mastered the asana, because, quite honestly I might not “MASTER” them at all.
Now some people might hear pranayama and think that is just to woo-woo. What is that anyway, just a bunch of crossed-legged people breathing? Well, there are specific pranayamas. And there are specific ways to do them. And even specific times. But let me ask you this: have you EVER, EVER, just stopped and held your breath? Perhaps someone said something that made you angry so you stopped and held your breath. Perhaps someone in a store cut in front of you in line so you stopped and held your breath. Or have you ever stopped to took a breath? Perhaps you were just going, going, going and you realized you wanted to slow down so you took a breath? Perhaps you looked outside your window and realized what a beautiful day it was so you took a breath. Now, as I said, pranayama is specific so I am not saying THAT or THOSE breaths were pranayama, but I am saying that if you have ever stopped breathing or stopped and taken a breath for any reason you might be able to see how pranayama could be beneficial.
I mentioned the other post I wrote about pranayama, Ujjayi specifically. Well there is another one that I think of as “easy”. It is Samavrtti. Sama means equal so it is a practice of equality in breathing. But in this type of breath there are FOUR parts. Typically I think of breathing as TWO parts, inhale and exhale. Well, with this the other two are retention. As in holding. Pausing after the inhale then pausing after the exhale. The reason I say this is “easy” with quotation marks is sometimes the retention is stress inducing. Some people don’t like to hold their breath on the inhale and some people don’t like to hold their breath on the exhale. So while the idea is that anyone can do this at anytime, you want to make sure that this is not something that will cause you anxiety.
With this, the idea is to inhale then hold, exhale then hold. Keeping the SAMA in mind, the goal is to inhale, hold, exhale, hold equally. So there are many ways to do it if you are counting as a way of keep track you can inhale 1,2, hold 1,2, exhale 1,2, hold 1,2. If the holding causes anxiety, it is ok to build up to it. Perhaps just holding after the inhale. Or maybe just hold on whichever retention causes less anxiety. Then perhaps graduating to inhale 1,2, hold 1, exhale 1,2, hold 1. There are many combinations to do while you work up to EQUAL parts.
Remember that the breaths should be relaxed and even. So the idea is not to inhale then hold so long that your exhale is a rush of air. It should all be even and relaxed.
Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar states in his Light On Pranayama to practice in ratios retain only on the inhalation. Once you achieve his stated ratios THEN move onto the retention after the exhalation. But he begins that instruction stating you will not be able to retain on the exhale. So it could be he means to follow the ratios is you really are unable to hold your exhale. While in general I love to follow the instructions and guidelines of the masters and experts, sometimes if I restrict myself to their instructions I end up not doing it at all. So . . . my recommendation is to try it and do what is comfortable for you. Being mindful and cautious.
Some say the samavritt calms the mind and can help to create steadiness and focus even in the most challenging asanas. And others say it calms the body and focuses the mind.
Do you practice any pranayama? Do you ever take a deep breath?