How often are we aware of the presence of a certain power source with which we are born, and without which we cannot exist?
We simply refer to it as the breath, but it is so much more.
And, seasonal allergies directly interfere with the health of this precious power source. Here, Pranayama, breathing practices, help to soothe the symptoms by activating the body’s healing process in order to make each season manageable.
Pranayama – a brief introduction
Prāṇāyāma is a Samskritham (Sanskrit) word which means “restraint of the prana or life force” or “extension of life force.”
- The first syllable is Prāna, referred to as the life force, vital energy, cosmic breath.
- The second syllable can be conjugated in two ways.
- “yāma”, denotes restraint, control. Here, Prāṇāyāma refers to control or restraint of prana.
- “āyāma”, means to extend, lengthen, liberate. Here, Prāṇāyāma means expanding the dimension of prana, creating a process to teach the body and mind to heal itself.
Both convey the essential meaning of Prāṇāyāma. The breath is the medium through which Prāṇāyāma is instructed. Ancient yoga scriptures detail collective practices, and hence, Prāṇāyāma is simply referred to as breathing practices.
There are many types of Prāṇāyāma practices taught by different schools with multiple variations. They can be categorized as heating and cooling, energizing and calming. The teacher who is well versed in this science is able to structure the practice for a student based on her health and personality. In other words, the teacher will find the correct mix of heating and cooling, energizing and calming Prāṇāyāma in order to promote optimal health and well-being of the student.
I am going to present four types of Prāṇāyāma and relate them to allergies in the next few posts. However, these practices also have many other benefits, such as – to promote emotional well-being and to assist in cultivating discipline for a spiritual aspirant, etc.
The four types of Prāṇāyāma are:
- Dhirgha or Three-part Breath
- Ujjaiyi or Victory or Ocean Breath
- Kapalabhati or Skull-Shining Breath
- Nadi Shodana or Anuloma Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breath
The techniques of Prāṇāyāma include various ways to manipulate the breath such as restraining, controlling, expanding and suspending. This requires proper instruction, disciplined practice and ongoing guidance in order to decipher the effects and adjust the techniques, based on the changes that may be perceived through regular practice.
If you have already been instructed in Prāṇāyāma by an certified teacher trained from a certain yoga school or lineage, please continue to follow the same. It is possible that you were given specific instructions according to your health and personality and hence need to consult with the same teacher before you make any changes to your practice.
On the other hand, if you are just getting into daily yoga asana practice and are considering adding Prāṇāyāma to your personal routine, Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma (next post) is the best place to begin. This Prāṇāyāma is safe for any age group, youth to elderly, for those who are recovering from injuries or surgeries and can be practiced anywhere, anytime.
General Practice Tips
- First, Jala Neti, nasal wash, must be performed before any Prāṇāyāma for best results.
- Next, a comfortable seat – asana must be established. Fighting with the aches and pains in your body throughout the 15-30 minutes defeats the purpose of Prāṇāyāma. Quoting one of my teachers – ‘hang up your ego and pull up a chair’.
- Early mornings are usually the best time for any breathing practice as the stomach is empty and you are well rested. However, you can do them at other times, as long as you haven’t had a large meal. (2-3 hours after a main meal is recommended)
- Some gurus recommend the practice of Prāṇāyāma both in the a.m. and p.m. Many may recommend 3-4 times a day. Remember the phase of life you are in before abiding to such rules.
- For example, if you have chosen the path of a householder (family) or as a caregiver for the elderly, or a professions/careers, etc., then time may be a constraint. Then, plan accordingly so you can stick to a simple Prāṇāyāma routine, instead of giving up the practice altogether.
- Conversely, if your choice is monastic or ashram life to pursue your spiritual practice, intensive Prāṇāyāma should fit in nicely. And you won’t need to read this blog!
- Always remember to begin slowly and allow enough time (weeks, months) for the breath to get acclimated to being ‘controlled or manipulated’. It helps if you are consistent in your practice.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I have benefitted, and continuing to benefit with Prāṇāyāma practices. I try my hardest not to miss a practice. But, if I did miss my regularly scheduled ‘sitting’ one day, there is a nagging feeling that I have forgotten something really important, and my body continually asks for it. Sometimes I am able to squeeze in a quick 10 minute Prāṇāyāma at some point in the day, and at other times I have to wait until next day. On these days, I notice a decrease in my energy, calmness and concentration. I have come to rely on Prāṇāyāma to take me through the day.
I started Prāṇāyāma with the intention of managing my seasonal allergies. The practices have not only helped me manage them but also enjoy Mother Nature at her best with reverence and gratitude. But more importantly, I need Prāṇāyāma to manage my emotional triggers and issues of self-worth. And, to deal with menopause and a teenager! And, since Prāṇāyāma is essentially a precursor to Dhyāna, meditation, and I want to continue on the spiritual path, I have chosen to make it a permanent part of my yoga practice.
Next Post – Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma
Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA