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The Present is a Gift. It is where your life lives.
In today’s fast-paced, screen-powered world, it is so important to have tools, such as practicing Prāṇāyāma, to draw you back into the power of Now. Something as simple as focusing on your breathing can allow you to come back to the present moment and back to the center of your own personal Universe. The more you bring yourself back to each breath and the fullness of the moment, the more you live your life to its fullest.
So what is Prāṇāyāma?
Prāṇāyāma (pran·a·ya·ma) can be referred to simply as breathing techniques and by extension, breath mastery. Some techniques can take years to master, however, some are accessible to everyone and very easy to learn.
“Now is where love breathes.” Rumi
In Yoga, the practice of Prāṇāyāma is an essential part of the “cessation of the mind stuff” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), or the quieting of the mind. It allows you to focus your mind on the action of breathing, rather than letting the mind wander wherever it pleases. When your breathing is in a calm state, the mind also enters a calm state. Hence, breath practices can minimize anxiety and bring the practitioner in to a state of open and alert relaxation.
Prāṇāyāma has many other benefits as well:
- slows down the heart rate
- lowers blood pressure
- oxygenates internal organs
- improves digestion
As with all true yoga practices, HoopYogini™ offers several easy to learn breathing techniques. Throughout the HoopYogini™ practice, the breath is linked with every movement, helping to calm the mind and the central nervous system, as well as, nourish each system, warm the joints and keep the body safe as it moves and stretches. There are many different Prāṇāyāma techniques, and all of them can have different effects on the mind and body. This article will focus on two – Durga Pranayam and Ujjayi Pranayam.
Durga Prāṇāyāma aka Three-Part breath is the foundational breath of the HoopYogini™ practice and of many Hatha Yoga practices. It is very calming and helps to reeducate the brain and nervous system to flow with full, deep breaths rather than short, anxious breaths which focus on movement in the upper chest.
With the inhalation, the three parts of the breath focus on inspiration in the following order:
1. The Lower Third – the breath fills up the belly and lower back
2. The Middle Third – the breath continues upward to expand the ribs heart and lungs
3. The Upper Third – the breath continues upward to lift the chest.
With the exhalation, the three parts of the breath focus on release in the following order:
1. The Upper Third – the breath releases downwards from the chest
2. The Middle Third – the breath releases as the ribs draw inwards towards the lungs
3. The Lower Third – the breath releases in full as the navel draws to the spine and presses out residual stale air
Focus on Three Part Breath really does require focus especially as most people habitually breath with short upper body breaths. Concentration on isolating each breath segment and filling each part can often create heat in the body and feel like a workout (like an ab workout!). It becomes especially rewarding and beneficial as the practitioner learns how to exhale from each upper segment while learning how to keep the lower segments full until the exhalation reaches the navel and belly.
Grab your hoop and practice!
Go into Centered Pose. Imagine that there are nostrils at the bottom on your feet. As you inhale, imagine the breath traveling through the nostrils of the feet, up the entire length of the body. As you exhale, imagine the breath traveling through the crown of the head, down the entire length of the body, through the nostrils of the feet and into the center of the Earth.
With your next few inhales, lift your hoop up to belly level and fill the first third of Three Part Breath. Lift the hoop to the nipple level and feel your ribs expand. Then lift the the hoop up to the chest, filling the body with even more breath.
As you exhale, release the breath from the chest and feel the chest lower. Bring the hoop to the rib area and feel the ribs come in towards the heart and lungs. Lower down to navel level and draw the belly button towards the spine. Release the breath in full as you return to Centered Pose.
One very common technique called Ujjayi Prāṇāyāma , also known as Victorious Breath, is used to generate heat in the body and enhances the stabilizer muscles that assist you in holding Yoga postures. Ujjayi creates a sort of “ocean sound,” and some people think of it as the “Darth Vadar breath”. HoopYogini™ Master Teacher Trainer Lori Jacobsen describes Ujjayi breath as, “a rhythm flowing in and out of me,” and describes the gift of Prāṇāyāma as empowering.
How to Practice
To practice Ujjayi Prāṇāyāma, begin Three Part Breath. Open your mouth and as in inhale and exhale, make a soft hiss at the back of your throat (ie “Darth Vader” sound). Imagine that the soft hiss is also creating steam so that if you had a mirror in front of your mouth, the steam would fog the mirror. After some practice, close your mouth and continue the sound and feeling. Make sure the Victorious Breath (also known as “Ocean Breath”) is merged with the fullness of Three Part Breath. Add on this breath to your Centered Pose practice of lifting the hoop up and down.
There is much to learn by observing your breath
In Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews write, “Breathing has the dual nature of being both voluntary and autonomic, which is why the breathe illuminates the eternal inquiry about what we can control or change and what we cannot.” Throughout our lives, we develop habits of shallow breathing which can be linked to stress, anxiety, and can have many detrimental effects to the body. However, through Prāṇāyāma we have the ability to control not just the breath, but also the thoughts that we think and the sensations in our body. Breathing techniques will allow you to take control of your breath and use it in a way that serves you.
A baby sleepy and breathing deeply; her belly, ribs, and chest expanding with every inhale and contracting with every exhale…
You may think you’ve been breathing for your whole life, but as a tiny developing baby in your mother’s womb you were sustained not by your breath, but by your mother’s. The time came for you to enter this world, to experience the air and atmosphere of Earth, and to take your first breath. And it wasn’t easy. A baby’s first breath requires three to four times the force of a normal inhalation. You might not remember it, but you struggled for that first breath. It is profound that after the first initial struggle the body took over, allowing you to breath continuously without even having to think and without ever having to worry about where your next breath would come from.
Written by: Erin Wood
Erin is a certified HoopYogini™ instructor who enjoys sharing her love for Hoop Yoga with as many souls as she can. Erin is passionate about self-love. She is dedicated to her mind and body! Show her some love by sharing and discussing this article.