Beginners Yoga – easy Breathing with (Sukha Purvaka) Pranayama
It is said (Sutras of Patanjali) that there are eight steps; rungs; components or more commonly translated as limbs – of yoga. Of these eight parts, the fourth is Pranayama, on the path to enlightenment.
Some people rank pranayama higher than the asanas. For most people yoga is all about asanas – postures. It is a part of yoga but should be relegated to a much smaller part, from a traditional point if view.
So What is Pranayama?
A very loose and incorrect translation of prana would be ‘breathing ’. Prana means life force, breath, the energy within breath which gives us life – life energy force. But have in mind please that there have been tomes written and spoken on just what prana is and is not.
Ayama translates as “to extend or draw out.” When we breath in we breath in acceptance; when we breath out we breath out ‘letting go’.
Pranayama is more than ‘just’ a breathing exercise. It is controlling and channeling the life force within us – much like the energy channels in traditional Chinese medicine. We want are energy channels open and flowing with no blocks. Nor do we wish for imbalance within the body. Hatha yoga is the balance of moon and sun energies within the body, and a joining (yoga) of the two. Ideally in an even balance.
Pranayama can therefore be used to bring calm and energy throughout the body. Now this blog is intended to be simple and easy to follow. Pranayama can be very in depth and when we bring the 72,000 nadis, energy channels into the conversation it can become confusing.
There are numerous different ways one can perform these breathing exercises (again it is so much more than just breathing exercise). The simplest I employ at my yoga studio is Sukha Purvaka Pranayama.
Sounds like not too much fun. I personally try not to use many Sanskrit words for my clients. Sukha Purvaka Pranayama translates to ‘the easy (happy) breath that precedes all others’.
Sukha in isolation of context, means happiness (Sanskrit is a very contextual language though).
So Sukha Pranayama could be translated as: ‘the exercise of controlling our breath which gives us happiness.’
It is so simple and effective as a great stress buster. It has a very quick and calming effect on both your body and mind.
How do we Control Our Life Force?
Sukha Purvaka Pranayama involves adopting a traditional asana, Padmasana – sitting. Sitting up straight, with a long tall spine.
The tall spine is considered a necessary part as it enabled the flow of prana along the energy channels either side and through the spine. (For a more science physiology approach Dr Sapolsky – youtube – has commented on how a straight, tall spine positively effects the parts of the brain associated with ‘happiness’).
We breathe in slowly through the nose. Trying to make the breath even and undisturbed, letting it flow. Like wise the exhale should be even, unperturbed and let it flow out through the nostrils.
The important part is the ‘pause’ following that inhale; likewise the pause following the exhale. This pause of the breath has a name – Kumbhaka. The pausing of the breath is considered to be the most important part of any of the pranayama techniques. The aim is to prolong this period between the two breaths.
As we aim to have the breath flow un-perturbed, this breath will slow down, and the kumbhaka will become more prolonged.
Sukha Purvaka Pranayama – Yoga Explained
At its simplest, we breath in (puraka) for a count of six, pause the breath for a count of six (abhyantara kumbhaka), breath out for a count of six (rechaka), and following the breath out hold the next pause for a count of six (bahya kumbhaka).
This is a simple exercise yet very effective at relaxing the minds and a gentle introduction into pranayama.
For my Yoga blog for runners read – Is Yoga for Runners?