Focus on the Breath: Pranayama

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In this time of COVID-19, it is especially helpful to attend to the breath.  Breathing exercises have many benefits, one of which is strengthening and cleansing the lungs to make them more resistant to illness.

About three months ago, when social isolation and reduced activity began to affect my emotional state, I resumed practicing hatha yoga daily.  I’ve been doing various styles of hatha yoga on and off for many years.  The practice I do now is taught by the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers.  I studied this style in 2011, when I became a certified yoga teacher at the center in London.  It was one of the most challenging months of my life.

But back to pranayama. 

In the yogic tradition, the breath is seen as the outward manifestation of prana, or vital energy.  Gaining control of the breath by practicing breathing exercises—pranayama—increases the flow of prana through the body, which literally recharges body and mind.  Aim to practice pranayama for up to 30 minutes daily, before or after asana practice.

-from p. 178, Yoga, Your Home Practice Companion published by the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center

Sivananda-style yoga originated with Swami Sivananda (b. 1887) who was a medical doctor.  He gave up his medical practice to become a renunciate, eventually settling in Rishikesh and entering monkhood.  He opened the Sivananda Ashram, established the Divine Life Society, and started his teaching organization, The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy.  His disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda, brought the teachings to the West.

But back to pranayama.

I do two types of breathing exercise. Anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) is good for balancing the nervous system.  Kapala Bhati cleanses the respiratory passages and increases the capacity of the lungs.  I like this exercise because I can actually feel my lung capacity improving.

Here is a good tutorial for Kapala Bhati:

Pranayama is not hard to do and doesn’t require a lot of time. 

A last word from Yoga, Your Home Practice Companion:

Although the language and imagery of pranayama may appear quite mystical, in practice its effects are concrete.  Whether you are a beginner or a more advanced yoga practitioner, pranayama trains the respiratory muscles, develops use of your lungs’ full capacity, and improves your body’s supply of oxygen while reducing its carbon dioxide levels.  It also helps to relax and strengthen your nervous system, calm the mind, and improve concentration.

Try it!

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