The most important foundation for any good Pranayama practice is proper breathing form and technique.
While many believe that they are naturals at breathing since they have been doing it automatically for their entire lives, the truth is that most people do not breathe optimally in their everyday lives and instead have built up habits of shallow and incomplete breathing, or they breathe using ineffective parts of their bodies such as only their shoulders and chest instead of fully engaging the lungs and diaphragm.
In order to set the foundation for optimal use of your breath, you must learn to engage the full capacity of your lungs. And in order to do so, interestingly enough, you must first work on developing relaxation in your body, particularly around your core (which includes your abdominal area and trunk). This can, of course, be accomplished through gentle stretching or Asana practice before starting your breathing exercises (which is no wonder that Asana practice comes before Pranayama practice on the Eightfold Path). But once you have sufficiently relaxed your body, you can then focus your attention and awareness on proper breathing form, which starts by inhaling gently and fully through your nose and bringing a generous amount of air into your lungs in order to expand your diaphragm and belly.
If you have been breathing with your chest for quite some time and have developed ineffective breathing habits that do not involve natural and comfortable “belly breathing,” please note that you may need to take some time to work on connecting your breath with the area around your diaphragm for some time before moving forward.
If this area has not been fully utilized in the past, you may feel some tension and discomfort as you work to develop this new breathing habit. But, I invite you to be gentle with yourself and simply work on expanding your awareness and connection with your breath in this area a bit at a time each day. Since, in most cases, inhalation is the most natural and automatic part of breathing, Patanjali advises, in Sutra 34, that you pay close attention (after gaining mastery of optimal inhalation of course) to using the “retention” of your breath/holding your breath and exhalation as the main two areas to acquire steadiness and comfort with as you work to gain control of your mind and make it calm through intentional breathing.
Below, you will find an exercise and demonstration video to get you started. Once you have reviewed this exercise, you will be ready to enroll yourself in the full Pranayama course that I have created for all Student Subscribers.
The course, titled Yoga And The Breath | Developing An Effective Pranayama Practice, will support you with deepening your understanding and awareness of your breath and the importance of Pranayama exercises in your Yoga practice and life. In this course, you will learn powerful and important techniques and exercises that will deepen and further your practice, and support you with creating the foundation for the physical and mental/emotional alignment that is necessary to gain success in the higher limbs of your Eightfold Path practice.
I invite you to enroll in the course to further your practice after reviewing the exercise below, and of course, I sincerely hope that you gain maximum benefits form it in your practice!
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