July’s Kunga Monthly Service theme is 10 Minutes of Pranayama.
Controlling the power of the breath is the technique of “pranayama.” ”Prana” is the Sanskrit word for life force. This is the energy that exists everywhere and is manifested in each of us through the breath, but prana isn’t exactly the same thing as breath or oxygen. Prana exists in all living things. It is pure energy. Every cell in our body is controlled by prana. Prana equals life. “Ayama” means a lengthening or restraining. So, putting the words together gives us “pranayama”, with means to master the life force. Pranayama techniques have been practiced for thousands of years, and you will find prana referenced in the Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and many other yogic texts.
I often use pranayama for centering, to ground me when I’m feeling out of sorts, and the world feels like it’s moving a little too fast. It also reminds me of how lucky we are to have this life, to recognize that each inhale is a gift. Pranayama brings us back to peacefulness, to the simplicity of life within stillness, and the beauty of each moment. It can become very easy in our modern lifestyles to expend our life force through indulgence and stress. This can make our prana become very weak. Generally this is when we may begin to feel a sense of apathy, sluggishness , or sadness. Everyday living becomes mundane, as if we are merely going through the motions, rather than truly living. Yoga teaches us to live a simple life that minimizes our expenditure of prana. Through practices such as meditation, pranayama, and posture work, we raise our level of prana, or life force. We become more connected to the gift of life, the gift of each single breath within us. With strong prana it is easy to connect with our inner wisdom, easy to connect with Spirit, and easier to connect with each other – – thus, our practice of pranayama becomes a service. . As teachers, pranayama is a one of the most beautiful tools that you can share with your students; as the body/breath awareness is a technique that they can take with them 24 hours a day, in every situation, relationship, and activity.
Why Practice Pranayama?
Ancient yogic texts taught that practicing pranayama purifies the “nadis” or energy channels of the body, and allows prana to flow in “sushumna”, the “central highway” of the body. The sages taught that prana, the life force circulating in and around us, could be channeled through the nadis through a series of breathing practices, as a means of mental purification (citta suddhi) and Self-realization. As modern practitioners, we have heard and seen again and again in mainstream health-related media the importance of “taking a deep breath” to relax the body, control anger, lower blood pressure, etc…The first thing that we do as we enter the world is to inhale. Our last act upon leaving the physical body is to exhale. The breath is a metaphor for life energy. In yoga, and in Ayurveda, we seek to sustain and evolve the life force as much as possible – absorbing prana through breath, food, visual surroundings, sound, all our senses as much as possible. Breathing is one of the few functions of the body that we may control (although more experienced yogis and yoginis may control heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, etc). The breath/prana is viewed as link between our body, mind, and spirit – moving from the physical body-mind to the spiritual.
Benefits of Pranayama:
• Increases the rate of metabolism (to aid with weight loss)
• Increases Agni, the digestive fire, is extremely important in Ayurveda
• Strengthens the immune system
• Certain Nostril Techniques can stimulate the calming centers of the brain.
• Calms and steadies the mind
• Improves focus and concentration
• Can raise or lower blood pressure, depending upon the technique chosen
• Increases VO2 Max
• Increases lung capacity
Suggestions for 10 Minutes of Pranayama:
– Guide/Practice One Form of Pranayama for 5 minutes, and allow the last five minutes to be practiced in silence with a timer.
– Practice two forms of Pranayama for 5 minutes each.
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