You may live for weeks without food, days without water, but only a few moments without breath. Breath is automatic, but it can also be done intentionally. Come on now, try it. Sit up straight, spine stacked like coins, chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, navel moving towards spine, hips grounded. Beyond the inhalation and the exhalation, there is another aspect, called rechaka, or retention. Inhale, hold the full breath, exhale, hold the empty breath; repeat as you wish. Kind of nice, no?
In this case, prana absorbs more fully on the inhale, and during the exhale, you create pressure on the energetic channels, which will then fill more deeply on the next inhale. Prana is the subtle energy that pervades the air, food, water, all things really. The energetic substrate of matter. Pranayama is conscious manipulation of this prana.
By manipulating the ratios of these four parts of the breath (called viloma), we can manipulate the mental and physiological state of being. If you would like to be balanced, inhale for 1, hold for 1, exhale 1, hold 1. To build extra energy or just to warm up, use 2:2:1:1 ratio. To relax or just cool down, 1:1:2:2.
There are many specific breaths characterized by the nature of the diaphragm’s movement and the specific air pathway. I have space here for just a few:
Alternate nostril breathing; stick your thumb and pinky out, folding the rest of the fingers, like a surfer. Use the thumb to control one nostril, the pinky to control the other. Cover the right nostril, breath in blue light through the left, slow and steady; cover the left, holding full breath. Open the right nostril, exhale dirty blue light, cover the right, and hold empty breath. Continue as long as you like. This creates a calming effect purifying the lunar channel. For a more empowering effect, switch the directions, breathing in red light through the solar channel(right nostril).
Breathe of Fire; powerful breath in and out through the nostrils, pumping the navel in and out towards the spine. It must be done forcefully, and may be done quickly. It floods the body with prana specifically in the fire chakra region, giving you a rush of fiery power. This breath may be combined with any movement, exercise or thought to multiply its efficacy.
Cannon breath; explosive exhalation through the opened mouth (lips in an ‘O’ shape) after a long deep inhalation through the nostrils. This is a great breath for letting go of things, like stress or pain. Focus on what you’d like to let go as you inhale, then boom!, exhale through the mouth, out it goes!
We’ve just scratched the surface of what pranayama has to offer, but just remember to appreciate your breath; learn to master your breath and you learn to master your mind. Check out doasone.com for some great interactive breathing exercises and meditations and check out siddhilifedesigns.com for more of my thoughts on yoga, art and wellness.