We define ourselves as Chicago’s guide to health and wellness. In attempt to try to expose readers to the power of mental and emotional health we will enter a topic that may seem a little technical in nature. Maybe some would consider it a little too “yoga.” But we challenge you to give pranayama a try and to approach the practice with an open mind. These breathing techniques are ancient practices and passed down over several generations and have been seen to bring the answers to questions that we only scratch the surface of answering in our modern society. Healthy mind and healthy emotions are additional dimensions to living a healthy lifestyle.
The definition of pranayama is the expansion of the energy body through breathing. A simple definition for such a powerful activity. Understanding the breath and control of the breath can have profound effects on your daily life. Disease, dullness, doubt, negligence, laziness, excess craving, delusion, instability and lack of concentration can all be impacted by incorporating pranayama into your daily routine. “These nine obstacles to self-knowledge disrupt and scatter the mind… in order to prevent these obstacles from arising you should habituate yourself to meditation upon a single principle… or the obstacles can be lessened by forcibly exhaling, then retaining the prana during the pause following exhalation.” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as interpreted by Mukunda Stiles.
The practice of pranayama goes deeper than just the inhale and exhale. It is true breath control and allows for stimulating the chakras, which has subtle internal effects that science is still trying to uncover. In order to truly tap into the power of pranayama, one must understand the bandhas. Therefore we recommend you discuss the complete practice of pranayama with an experienced professional. With that being said, it is difficult to say the effects you will feel from the breathing exercise we will introduce to you in this article. We are all individuals and within our own search to remove the obstacles that disrupt and scatter the mind, we will have different experiences. If you are just beginning your practice of breathing, you can try the easy breathing exercise to start the inquiry into breath control. Below is more complex breathing exercise (pranayama) that is more in line with what Pantanjali is describing in the Yoga Sutras and can be practiced at home.
Kevala kumbhaka: retention of the breath
In a comfortable seated position begin to inhale and exhale through the nose.
On the inhale, start with inflating the lower part of the lungs, then expand the middle chest region, and completing the inhale by expanding the upper/collar bone region.
Exhale in the reverse
Continue long, deep, slow, smooth, uninterrupted breaths while keeping the body relaxed, not tensing or shrugging the shoulders (approximately 5 times).
(If the breath is not smooth and uninterrupted see the easy breathing exercise for more description on the breathing technique)
At any point of the inhale or exhale interrupt the breath with a hold for a comfortable amount of time without exaggeration or tension in your body or breath. The holding of your inhale and/or exhale should not be predetermined. For example, you should not inhale deeper than usual because you intend to hold the breath on your exhale. The breath should remain smooth and controlled and the holding (or retention) of the breath should be a pause in the flow as oppose to a hard stop.
This breathing exercise will help you train the breath for more complex pranayamas. As you grow in your breathing practice, you should seek the guidance of an experienced professional. Some yoga studios or yoga instructors may have insight into helping you grow in your practice of pranayama, but there are other experienced professionals that can help you grow in the practice of pranayama and meditation as well.