So what exactly is pranayama, and why is it important?
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word translated as “extension of energy”, or “breath control”, and is an essential part of the practice of yoga. Pranayama is often practiced while performing the physical asanas, while some pranayama exercises are practiced in a seated or supine position. Some yoga gurus rank pranayama as the most important part of the practice – which shouldn’t come as a surprise since breath is the one constant thing we all need to survive. Breathing is the first and last thing we do in our lives. Stress, tension, and bad habits can create physical and energetic obstacles in our bodies, and (without even noticing it) can cause our breathing to become shallow. Through stress, we can develop unconscious breathing patterns that restrict the flow of energy. When we work on freeing the breath through pranayama we are also working on letting energy flow through the body.
The word pranayama, in fact, embodies this concept:
Prana: Life force, or breath sustaining the body
Ayama: To extend or draw out
Benefits of Pranayama
Focusing on the breath nurtures a high level of physical health and mental clarity and is the link between awareness and the mind. Practicing pranayama every day can assist in maintaining a steady mind, strong will power, and sound judgement. The practice provides freedom from harmful or negative thoughts and helps control the vrttis, which is the Sanskrit term for “the fluctuations of the mind”. On a physical level, the rate of breathing during a yoga practice slows from our regular 15 breaths per minute to 5 or 6 breaths per minute, relaxing the nervous system, improving circulation and helping lower blood pressure. Pranayama has the effect of energizing, relaxing, and healing the body, letting everything else fall into place.
Join us every Wednesday at 6:30pm for our donation based community class – Yoga for Maui People – to learn different Pranayama techniques that can help you release tension, stress and create more awareness. Suggested donation for the class is $5 and the class is open to people of all ages and skill levels to practice seva – the act of selfless service.