Pranayma and Yoga

Yoga and Pranayama

On our 200-hour foundation teacher training course we teach the basics of pranayama, and include some foundation practices. In our 300 hour advanced course our aim is to take our understanding of pranayama and yoga further. We will do this through a deeper understanding of the purpose of pranayama, and through sustained practise and effort.

As with our asana practise, sustained and appropriate effort is essential for progress, but over trying and not listening to our bodies and emotional responses will be counterproductive. So how do we know if our effort is the right effort, we do this by being self-aware during our practise. While we practise, a constant state of self-observation is essential for safe and effective progress. With self-awareness, our practise will be appropriate, and we will be aware of when it is right to increase our practise.

If our breath practise is to easy nothing will change, if it is too hard, or forced then we may be goal driven, which is not yoga. Our breath when practising pranayama should be silent, not noisy. A noisy practise may be us trying too hard.   

Sustaining a constant state of vigilance during our pranayama practise will keep us informed of our practise. If we practise without awareness our mind will wander, and we will fall into familiar patterns, and our practise becomes ineffective. As I said earlier sustained effort is needed for progress, self-awareness will help us become aware of our emotional state while we practise, which will give is clues if we are able to remain objective with our self-appraisal.     

When we begin a pranayama practise, or for that matter an asana practise or meditation practise, many obstacles will mysteriously appear, it’s how truthful we are with ourselves that will count. Practising pranayama, with the right intent will help us reduce impurities and avidya (non truth or non knowledge) The opposite of avidya is vidya (truth or knowledge) Vidya does not mean intellectual knowledge, it is valid knowledge. It is a knowledge which cannot be contradicted, it is a knowledge of the self which is intuitively gained. This truth or knowledge is also called the Atman, it is the universal truth inside all of us which is beyond maya (veil of illusion) or beyond Asmita (I ness or ego)

Once we understand that our practise is just that, a practise without the need for reward, or to show how good we are, then we will truly be practising pranayama.

Breaking down pranayama into three states, puraka = inhalation, rechaka = exhalation and kumbhaka = breath retention. The exhalation or rechaka can be said to be the most important stage. As I said a moment ago, yoga is there to eliminate impurities and reduce avidya, when we extend the exhale, we are eliminating impurities. A long slow and controlled exhale, that is not forced is a good sign of progress. Also, we can’t take in new oxygen and prana without first fully emptying out. Pranayama will help us unblock energy channels, or nadis, and allow prana to flow taking life force with it. If we practise long and controlled exhalations, we are riding ourselves of waste and impurities. An essential part of the process will include the practices of kapalabhati, bhastrika.

A pranayama practise should be gradual and consistent, it should never be forced or rushed. Remember, remaining self-aware and persistence are the key.

Martin Thompson.