Before we start Pranayama (or Yoga), we must prepare for Pranayam by understanding breathing, its aspects and be fully aware of how the flow is happening.
Breathing is an unconscious activity. We all do it without thinking. Yet, understanding your breath and the process of breathing is one of the critical cornerstones of Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation.
Almost all Yoga classes take this for granted – everyone knows how to breathe, right? Well yes and no. Of course, we all know how to breathe but we are not 100% involved in the process. This complete involvement is what will increase your Yoga and Pranayama benefits manifold.
Why “conscious breathing” instead of “natural breathing”
The natural and involuntary breathing that we are used to is highly dependent on factors such as our physical state (emotional, mental, spiritual), outside influences (noises, temperature) and our existing energies (anxiety, tension, depression). With these kinds of influences, we cannot expect a steady breathing pattern nor the most efficient.
The even more critical aspect of the above is that all students will have different internal and external states. Hence, almost certainly, they will be starting from different breathing points.
It is therefore important for teachers to tell beginner students how to understand breathing in order to develop complete awareness. Breathing is different from other Asanas that you will do. You will not be learning something new, in fact, you will be un-learning something in order to start again – with more clarity.
How to Un-learn and relearn breathing
Lie down in Shavasana. Close your eyes and try to relax. Now break down the process of breathing.
Inhaling: Feel the breath coming in. See if you are doing shallow or deep breathing. Are you making a sound or is it noiseless? Where did the signal start to initiation the inhalation – did it come from an urge in the lungs or did it start from your brain? Feel the breath spreading through your body. Where is it going first – does it have a color or a pattern? Does the speed of breath flow through your body vary? Do you feel it rushing somewhere first? Focus your attention on body centers. Your heart, brain, lungs. Your Chakras. Your limbs. Are there any sensations that you are becoming aware of?
Full Breath Inside: Do not forcefully hold your breath but do not rush to let go either. Feel it inside you. Do you feel it concentrated in your diaphragm or is it more in your stomach? Is your mind at rest or fluctuating with patterns?
Exhaling: How similar is the process to inhalation? Does it flow out in the same manner or is it all a rush, a blur? What was the speed and time of exhalation – how does it compare to inhalation. Again focus on your heart, lungs, and brain. On your chakras and your limbs. How do you feel as the breath goes out? Colors and patterns. Sounds and sensations. How did exhalation start – from an urge in lungs or via a conscious decision? Is your body tensing or relaxing with exhalation.
No breath inside: Before you inhale again, be aware of this state of emptiness. Does your body feel something missing or is it at ease? Where is the cavity now – near your diaphragm or your stomach.
Repeat the above cycles few more times. There is no right or wrong answer. This is simply the first stage to be aware of your breath. The awareness will lead to involvement. Do not rush – breathing is by far the most important aspect of Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation. When you master it, everything else becomes simpler.
In the next section, we will look individually the above segments.