Where do you start with beginners when teaching pranayama? Should you begin by teaching calm and relaxing breathing techniques? Some students might find the basics boring, but it is your task to give them a safe foundation and keep them interested at the same time. Most of all, some beginners get restless when practicing pranayama, because they think they are missing out on advanced asana training.
Although the asanas are extremely important for yoga practice, as a teacher, you are aware that there are other elements that could be considered just as important. The form of yogic breathing, or pranayama, is vital for the practice of yoga. It is one of the most difficult elements to execute correctly – not only for beginners, but teachers as well. In this article, you will find some techniques that will help you assist pranayama practitioners to engage these exercises safely and effectively.
To begin, you will engage in this practice, by simply taking a deep breath. Slowly take in air through your nostrils and allow your lungs to fill and stomach to expand.
Once you have completed this process, you will exhale slowly, allowing your stomach to collapse and lungs to deflate. With time, you will train yourself to breathe properly.
Students should not begin with rapid breaths. Dynamic forms of pranayama should not initially be taught. This will come with time. As stated, you must remind students that pranayama, when not practiced properly or by the inexperienced, can be risky. Let them know that with time and training, they will be able to reach a complete breath. In other words, the volume of their breath will become deeper.
Basics of Alternate Nostril Breathing
Once your students have practiced the above-mentioned method of pranayama, they can continue with something a bit more focused. Ask your students to gently block one of their nostrils. Either one is fine, but for the sake of instruction, let’s say the left nostril is blocked.
Have your students close their eyes, and inhale slowly, calmly, and deeply through the open right nostril.
When their lungs have filled, have them unblock the left nostril and gently cover the right.
Once the switch is complete, have them now exhale through their open left nostril.
Have them practice this technique for some time, until they have gained a solid grasp on the practice before moving on to the opposite side. In other words, you want to ask your students to do an equal amount of alternate nostril breathing on the opposite side.
Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath)
After students have mastered the basic pranayama exercises, they can move on to something more difficult. Remember to tell your students not to strain themselves in the process. Students should be aware that they could hurt themselves during pranayama practice by forcing and pushing limits – just as much as they could be injured during asana practice.
To begin Bhastrika, students will take a deep breath allowing both nostrils to be open. One method that is easy for students to grasp is for them to bring both arms up overhead. Instruct them to inhale and allow the lungs to fill. Next, ask them to exhale, squeeze their hands into fists and bring them down to shoulder height, as they complete their exhale.
Practice these steps with your students, taking time and care. It is important for students to eventually get a taste of the more complicated and dynamic techniques within yoga. However, there is a time when students are ready for challenging asanas and pranayama techniques.
It should be stressed that some students will never be able to practice difficult techniques, because it puts them at risk of injury. A good example of this would be – students, who have high blood pressure, heart problems, or neurological disorders.
In most cases, dynamic pranayama techniques would not be suggested. This is much like taking a student who is having difficulty with standing on two feet and putting them in a power yoga class.
My point is that students need to be evaluated before teaching them difficult techniques.
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After students have mastered the basic pranayama exercises, they can move on to something more difficult but should be aware that they could hurt themselves during pranayama practice by forcing and pushing limits.