yoga trainingBy Kimaya Singh

Now, that you are teaching classes, you might wonder which of the many pranayama techniques you learned in yoga teacher training to spring on your students first. Pranayama is a yogic practice that beginner students don’t often encounter right away.

Typically, yoga instructors begin with teaching postures (asanas) to beginners. Pranayama is often the second step toward deepening the practice of yoga. To understand the purpose of pranayama, it’s helpful to be clear on the primary goals of yoga. Patanjali, a great sage in the yoga tradition and author of the Yoga Sutras, defines yoga training as controlling or calming the fluctuations of the mind.

When a practitioner learns to control the mind, she becomes free of distracting thoughts and develops an ability to concentrate on her true nature. In this context, pranayama is a collection of exercises in which the practitioner influences the energy of the mind and body (Prana) through control of the breath. Pranayama practices range from the simple to the complex. The following are a few simple pranayama practices for beginners.

• Breath awareness: While not technically a pranayama practice, the straightforward act of focusing attention on the breath is a good place to begin. Simply sit in a comfortable position and observe the breath. Is the breath slow or fast? It is shallow or deep? Does the breath come easily or difficultly? Is it easy to maintain focus on the breath, or does the mind begin to wander?

• Ujjayi: Using the throat to create a constricted passage for the breath is called Ujjayi breathing. The breath becomes smooth and relaxed. To practice, sit comfortably and imagine sipping through a straw with the mouth closed. Feel the breath at the base of the throat. When done correctly, Ujjai creates a pleasing, oceanic sound.

• Nadi Shodhana: Commonly referred to as “alternate nostril breathing,” Nadi Shodhana is a purifying and balancing breath. The practitioner employs the thumb and ring finger on her right hand to close one nostril and breathe through the other. Again, sit in a comfortable position. Starting with the right hand in a relaxed fist, extend the thumb and place it on the right nostril. Release the ring and little fingers, and rest the ring finger on the left nostril. Carefully press the thumb to close the right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril. Then, use the ring finger to close the left nostril, release the thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril. Use the thumb to close the right nostril, release the ring finger and exhale through the left nostril. That makes one full round of Nadi Shodhana.

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