Yoga Dharma has regular classes and teaches traditional Pranayama methods as part of its teacher training courses. Yoga Dharma offers a 100-hour Pranayama teacher training module which can form part of a 1000-hour training program.

The importance of breathing cannot be overstated, without our next breath we cease to be. The breath is not just a means of oxygenating the body, it is considered a system of fine tuning mental processes and physical ability. Considered breath awareness is also said to connect us to a higher self. Re-oxygenation is vital for full health and for healing wounds. Specialised breathing techniques, or Pranayama, developed through yoga connect us to our spiritual dimension.

Our emotional wellbeing is dependent on good respiration and assimilation. Shallow breathing is symptomatic of tension and anxiety. The breath is a link between our conscious and unconscious mind. The respiratory rate is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which can be affected by the Sympathetic nervous system, and may trigger the flight and fight response. Simple breathing exercises will tell the cranial brain there is no danger and the respiratory rate will slow with the heart rate.

The word Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words, prana and ayama. Prana meaning life force, or vital force, and ayama is defined as extension, or expansion. Pranayama means extension or expansion of life force.

The Bihar School of Yoga has a scientific concept of prana, saying it means the original life force, and not the breath or oxygen.

Breathing while in Pranayama is under voluntary control, which will affect the respiratory rate. There are three phases of respiration while practicing Pranayama. Puraka (inhalation) Kumbhaka (retention of breath) Recaka (exhalation) Pranayama is extending the normal rate of breathing, which in normal breath is on average 15 per minute. During a Pranayama practice this will slow to a rate of about 2-3 per minute. Practicing Pranayama using resistance ensures a full exhalation. Pursing the lips will engage the respiratory muscles, intercostals and diaphragm, which ensures a deeper exhalation. The benefits are more Co2 will be expelled, and more O2 will be assimilated. Pranayama should always be practiced through the nose; mouth breathing is contraindicated. Also avoid Pranayama while under physical or emotional pressure, this may adversely affect the respiratory centre.

The time ratio during Pranayama of counting the breaths is a way of measuring our reasonable resistance. It will let us know if we are exceeding our limits at the time of practice, avoiding possible contraindications. Your practice should always be mindful, and each phase should be smooth and slow.

Applying bandhas during the Kumbhaka phase of a Pranayama practice has the effect of slowing down the respiration and heart rate. Jalandara bandha influences the parasympathetic nervous system through dropping the chin to the chest and contracting the throat. It stimulates the carotid sinuses. This in turn triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. The effect of not applying these safety mechanisms through Jalandhara bandha could damage delicate blood vessels in the brain. Lowering the heart rate and respiration rate, lowering oxygen consumption, means we can hold Kumbhaka for longer. It is also said a similar effect is stimulated through Uddiyana bandha and Mula bandha.

Pranayama should be smooth and considered. In general, the practice of Kumbhaka would be added after practicing a controlled inhalation and exhalation, and the practice should not be forced. The mind must be focused entirely on the practice. Always practice Kumbhaka with Jalandhara Bandha. Pranayama practice follows Shat karmas and asana, and before meditation. Always breath through the nostrils.

Martin Thompson.

Course details to be announced!