We spend our whole lives breathing, day in, day out, whether awake or asleep, paying little attention to this vital function of our bodies. We take breathing for granted without even realising how much our physical, mental and emotional state affect this subtle activity, both in a positive and negative way. But equally, breath can have a tremendous effect on our general well-being.
Pranayama within the yoga system is often translated as ‘breathing exercises’ or ‘breath control’, but the meaning of the word has much more a deeper meaning. The word is composed from two Sanskrit words: prana meaning life force; a core energy that animates our existence; and ayama, which means ‘to restrain or control’. And the key to unlocking the potential of this cosmic force is our breath.
Breathing is automatic and easily falls into habitual patterns. These patterns tend toward breathing in the mid and upper chest and are often of a shallow nature. Breaking these patterns, however, can prove life-changing! Having said that, it is impossible to achieve any such changes overnight; it requires a regular and methodical practice. There is an unconscious fear of having to try and alter deeply ingrained breathing patterns. When asked to sit and focus on one’s breathing, most people experience a wave of panic.
Integrating breathing into a yoga practice is crucial. Although breathing should be emphasised throughout the whole class, spending just 5-10min at the beginning or end of the class working with different types of pranayama will undoubtedly have a positive impact.
On the weekend of 3rd/4th February 2018 I attended a weekend long course ‘Teaching Pranayama’ with Philip Xerri. During the weekend Philip took us through endless Pranayama techniques and gave us a step-by-step guide for introducing some basic techniques to our students in the class situation.
It was an amazing weekend, which not only did leave me revitalised but also more confident to work with my students and their breath.