yoga teacherBy Bhavan Kumar

Why do we spend so much time during yoga teacher training on pranayama? This question is on the minds of many young interns.  Pranayama is a timeless healer of many pains and aches.  Stress is the timeless killer of humans.  Not all pranayama techniques are for stress, but many are.  This is the reason for so much devotion toward pranayama during yoga teacher training.

Over time, stress can have a very deleterious effect on both the body and the mind. If stress becomes chronic, the negative physical and emotional effects become magnified. Nature has intended all of us to work at maximum efficiency during times of danger. In our history as human beings, there were plenty of reasons for needing the extra energy that the adrenal glands would pump out during times of danger. Most often, this danger was physical, either from a predator, the natural environment or other human beings.

In today’s world, the stress we encounter is often endemic to the environment and our faced paced lifestyle. Stress may be generated by long traffic jams on the way to work or environmental pollution in our cities. Stress may also be self-generated by our own thoughts and belief systems. If we allow our minds to become overly negative or critical of ourselves or others, the body may interpret this state of anxiety and anger as danger and release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin.

When these stress hormones remain elevated for extended periods of time, both the body and mind suffer the consequences. Many of our modern diseases are exacerbated by stress, diseases such as arthritis, IBS and heart problems. The emotional/mental aspect of our mind may reflect a chronically high level of stress by low levels of serotonin, dopamine and gaba, which leads to feeling of generalized anxiety and depression.

Yogic pranayama or breathing exercises are wonderful tools for lowering hormonal stress levels in the body. Dirgha Pranayama is a very simple and powerful Yoga breathing technique that will balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and the left and right energetic pathways of the body, known in Yoga as the Pingala and Ida Nadis. This balance will leave you feeling relaxed, refreshed and renewed.

Dirgha Pranayama

To practice Dirgha Pranayama, you should get into a comfortable seated asana on your mat, bolster or on a chair. This pranayama exercise may also be practiced in Shavasana or Corpse Pose on a Yoga mat or in bed, if you are recovering from an illness or injury. Before beginning your pranayama practice, take a few deep, full breaths and become aware of the present moment. Dirgha Pranayama is also known in Yoga as the Three Part Breath because each inhale is divided into three parts. The first third of your inhale will reach your belly button, the second part of your breath will reach the lower half of your rib cage, and the third part will complete your inhale as you fill your chest capacity up to the lower throat area.

The exhale should be smooth and continuous for the same number of counts that you inhaled. For example, you may wish to inhale the first third of your breath for two counts, the second third of your breath for two counts and the third part of your breath for two counts. Pause for a brief moment, and then exhale in a controlled and smooth manner for a total count of six. It is optimal to inhale and exhale through your nose when practicing Dirgha Pranayama. One complete cycle an inhale and exhale is considered to be one round. Practice five to ten rounds of Dirgha Pranayama. When you are finished, pause for a few minutes in Easy Seat or Shavasana on your Yoga mat to feel the vibrant pulsation of life throughout your entire being.


Dirgha is one of the traditional forms of pranayama, which makes it part of a syllabus in many yoga teacher training courses.  There are many yogic breathing techniques to choose from, but Dirgha will always be among the top twenty methods for reducing stress.

© Copyright 2012 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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