Pranayama is one of the most important parts of a yoga practice. It is the fourth limb in the Eight limbed system of yoga by Patanjali.
Prana itself is also known as the life force in our body. In Chinese medicine it is known as the Qi. The free flow of the prana is believed to bring us a combination of a healthy body , mind and spirit.
Although it is an important part of yoga practice, Pranayama is an advanced practice and may only be practiced under guidance of an experienced teacher. As BKS Iyengar mentioned in his book, Light on Yoga, Pranayama must be approached very carefully. More care is given during practice of pranayama than the care taken in training a lion. The inappropriate and hasty practice of pranayama can gravely affect the nervous system.
Here under are the simplest pranayama practices that you would encounter in most of your yoga classes.
Sama means same and Vritti means fluctuation. Hence this breath has equal fluctuation with inhale and exhale by having the same length. Usually we start at 4 counts and bring it up to 8 counts.
The effect of this breath is calming. It also increases the lung capacity. This pranayama practice is basic and safe for students, but as always, be cautious if there is discomfort and stay at a count that is accessible or come back to normal breathing completely.
Three-Part Yogic Breath
Also known as Dirga Pranayama, this practice involves division of the breath into three parts which are the abdominal, diaphragm and upper chest. It teaches you to breathe fully and completely. Learning to breathe deeply will increase your oxygen supply, and decrease stress and anxiety levels. Also, it brings awareness to the present moment and calms your mind. According to studies, you can inhale and exhale up to seven times as much oxygen during a three-part breath than in a shallow, chest-based breath.
Nadi shodana is also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. This a more advanced breathing practice with a lot of benefits. Nadi means energy channel, and shodhana means cleansing. Nadi shodana is a process of balancing the left energy channel and the right energy channel.
The left nadi is called Ida nadi, which has characteristic as feminine, calming, yin and the right nadi is called Pingala nadi which has characteristic as masculine, active, yang. Only when the left nadi and the right nadi is balanced, the center nadi called Sushumna nadi runs along our spine is open, and can carry the Kundalini energy which is known to bring us into the enlightenment.