Yoga is so much more than the shapes we make with our body. In fact, there are eight limbs of yoga; yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. When many of us think of yoga, we think of the asana practice. Over the next several months, I would like to explore the eight limbs of yoga with you. We will first dive into one of my favorites, the practice pranayama.
B.K.S. Iyengar stated in Light on Yoga,
“Prana in the body of the individual is part of the cosmic breath of the universal spirit. An attempt is made to harmonize the individual breath withe the cosmic breath through the practice of pranayama.”
What more could you want, right!? Being part of the cosmic breath of the universal spirit! In the end all practices lead us to samadhi. The fourth limb being pranayama, leads us to the greater connection with the universal spirit through breath control. When controlling the breath by means of stretching, lengthening, expanding, and restraining, one can reap great benefits to the body, mind, and spirit. From the reduction of stress and mental chatter to lowered heart rate and muscle tension, the benefits of breath control or pranayama can be felt both during the time of practice and throughout daily life.
To begin the practice of pranayama, one may simply draw attention to the breath by watching each inhale and exhale and making effort in creating a steady equal rhythm. Continue to draw attention back to the breath throughout each day over a week to increase the natural occurrence of the equal rhythm. To move the practice forward or to step into a concentrated pranayam practice you may want to continue or begin with the three part breath.
Three Part Breath
Finding a comfortable seated or reclined position with the back completely straight, place one hand over the heart and the other over the lower abdomen.
Inhale deeply filling the abdomen, then lower ribs, and upper ribs.
Exhale upper ribs lower, lower ribs lower, abdomen lowers.
Repeat inhale and exhale for 3, 5, or 11 minutes.
Like many physical practices, Pranayama has beginner, intermediate, and advanced techniques.Some practices may not be suitable for individuals, make sure to check contraindications before beginning a practice. I encourage you to explore your breath.. In joy, with practice all is coming!