The Practice of Pranayama

Pranayama is a yoga practice that I believe does not get enough attention in the modern yoga world! I have been practising this art form for as long as I’ve been practising asana and that’s why I have decided that the next two months will be dedicated to this life giving practice. Click here to watch a video on some asanas to practice before starting your pranayama practice.

In yoga there are various breathing practices that work to restore our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and if we are willing to explore deeper, they can also work for our spiritual liberation.

The paradox of breathing is that it is an automatic function of human existence, yet breathing is not that simple. There are many disorders in breathing patterns and much of it has to do with how our conscious waking life seeps into our unconscious life. This is when our ego mind comes into contact with the breath and our capacity to anticipate what happens next affects our breathing pattern, which then becomes part of our unconscious mind. So our breath is one way that we can work with the mind.
Yoga and pranayama can help us move into our unconscious mind, because the conscious movement of breath can trigger it. In some ways, pranayama is an invitation to undo and feel both unhelpful emotional patterns.

Every discomfort that comes up during pranayama practice is part of the process of becoming conscious. This includes being uncomfortable in your body, agitation, anxiety and dislike. Part of becoming conscious is to increase our awareness by reflecting on:
Where is it coming from?
Why is it coming up?
So be patient if you decide to include pranayama in your patience. Like asana it takes time!

Physical & Mental Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama practice trains the respiratory system to function optimally by utilising the entire lungs and diaphragm and:

  • oxygenates the blood, which helps remove waste and toxins
  • this oxygenated blood improves blood circulation
  • more oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart
  • this tones the nerves, brain spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency
  • the rhythmic use of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in pranayama directly stimulates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, as well as promoting intestinal circulation. So it helps the intestine in its function of absorbing food materials and disposing of solid waste
  • the spleen just under the left diaphragm, acts as a filter to purify the circulating blood of worn out oxygen carrying red cells
  • Much of the splenic blood circulation is within lymphatic structures and is stimulated by pranayama
  • reduces breathing rate- pranayama practices help reduce breathing rates per minute from 15 breaths to 5-6 breaths and can help to lower blood pressure and quiet the nervous system
  • regular, rhythmic and prolonged breath develops inner focus, and calms the nervous system
  • Calms the mind becoming sensitive to the flow of breath, the subtlety of the breath, and finally the suspension of the breath, leads you to an awareness of the force behind the breath—prana.
  • becoming aware of prana as the thread that links you to deeper states of mental awareness, independent of the physical body and the senses. This is the beginning of mastering the mind and deepening the spiritual journey
  • helps unleash blockages in the main nadi’s (energy channels) – ida and pingala nadi, and helps to move prana into the central channel (sushmna nadi) in the subtle body (this is how it can work for your spiritual liberation- experientially revealing to you that you are Shakti- a powerful energetic and light body).

Coping with grief

Coping with grief. Grieving can be a very personal, private and lonely experience. This was mine when I lost my first son through stillbirth. I found it difficult to be around people who couldn’t handle my tears, sadness and need to endlessly talk about my baby. I found comfort and relief in those that could.  As a counsellor and life long yoga student and teacher, I had the tools to draw on that allowed me to totally meet my experience exactly as it was. Part of this was accepting that there was no part of me in the initial stages wanting anything to do with yoga, or anything to do with the life I lived whilst pregnant or prior. I didn’t want any reminders. It was just too hard.

I just wanted to be alone.  I was afraid of going out in fear of bumping into people that I knew and unleashing my relentless tears onto them. And worst of all was seeing pregnant women! I remember having thoughts of, “you know it could happen to you at any moment, don’t think you are safe, stillbirth is so unpredictable, you aren’t in control, you could loose your baby too- and I hope you do just so I know I’m not the only one”. I hated myself for having these thoughts. How “unyogic” of me!!! Practice ahimsa Eleni; in thought, speech and action”. This inner battle added to my already heavy heart. Trying to change the way I was feeling and thinking, no matter how “unyogic” it was of me, caused me more inner turmoil than I could handle.

I don’t know how or what shifted, but I eventually stopped trying to change my “unyogic” feelings and thoughts and finally allowed myself to have them. This was one way I started coping with grief. I allowed myself to be okay with not wanting to go out and being okay with not wanting to see other pregnant women and saying, no thank-you to yoga! Clouded by so much heartache, I had forgotten for a moment how to drop into the deeper wisdom of yoga. 

When we give our hearts consent to meet our grief and our thoughts and feeling with total intimacy and without trying to change them the healing journey begins. Mine did, and this was the best way I found of coping with grief. The biggest guidance I can give if you have experienced such profound loss is to let your grief in all the way. Don’t worry about what thoughts, feelings or emotions you are having. They are all part of you and all part of what life is needing to express itself through you in that very intimate and present moment. This is the core of classical Tantra teachings! Let it all in- the good, the sad, and learn to be with the whole of reality.

Om Shanti