During your yoga class you may realize that some of the poses are reminiscent of some stretching and cool down exercises that you did in aerobics class during the ’80s or ’90s. It is true that some of the physical movements of yoga postures are similar to basic fitness stretches. What you won’t remember in these other types of fitness classes is the practice of Pranayama.
Pranayama is the key component that separates yoga from other types of exercise. While asanas are important for developing your body, the union of asanas with Pranayama will develop your mind. Patanjali notes in the Yoga Sutras that Pranayama is a means of achieving a higher state of awareness.
The literal translation of Pranayama is life force (prana) and control (ayama). Ancient yogis taught that by participating in a series of controlled breathing pranayama exercises, you are able to control the life force of your body on both physical and mental levels.
There are about 50 documented types of Pranayama breathing techniques. A few mainstream varieties that you may recognize and practice in your yoga class are:
Bhastrika: This is more commonly known as breath of fire or bellows breath. Your stomach expands on the inhale and during the exhale; you suck your navel toward the backbone. This forceful in and out breathing is a great energy booster.
Ujjayi: This type of breathing requires a vibratory sound at the back of the throat, which is responsible for the nickname ocean breath. The sound vibration of this breathing will help you with focus.
Anulom-Vilom: Commonly known as alternate nostril breathing, in this simple breathing exercise you close one nostril with your thumb or ring finger while breathing in and out of the open nostril. This type of exercise is effective in blocking the flow of carbon dioxide and helps to regulate blood pressure.
Kapalabhati: This is a process of inhaling normally and exhaling forcefully. This is a cleansing breath and gets the nickname skull shining breath from the Sanskrit translation of Kapal (skull) and Bhati (shining). This breath is helpful in improving function of the abdominal organs.
You may also want to practice these breathing techniques outside of yoga class. In addition, you may do them individually or create a blend of more than one in a sequence. It is usually best to wait at least 2 hours after eating before practicing any of these methods.
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