Pranayama relates to the extension and expansion breath or more literally ‘life force’. Other translations mention ‘spirit energy’, ‘vital air’ and ‘extension of the breath’. We tend to think of it as ‘breath control’ which allows us to sink more deeply into our practise and assist in concentration.
There are many types of breath used in yoga practise, the most prevalent being Ujjayi or the victorious breath. Others involve inhaling and exhaling in short, alternate nostril breathing (Anuloma/ Nadisuddhi Pranayama), sharp bursts (Viloma Pranayama), exhaling through the mouth with tongue out (Shitali Pranayama), pausing at top of inhale and exhale (Kumbhaka pranayama) and many more. Research has shown some links between pranayama techniques and relief of stress induced conditions. However there have also been adverse, acute medical implications noted with incorrect practise.
As my own practise develops and I take greater notice of the breath, feeling how it can mean a highly present practise or a removed and disjointed one. It’s obvious that breath is central to yoga asana and the benefits reaped from a regular physical practise. A teacher I had a few years ago placed a huge emphasis on using the breath to move more deeply into poses or achieve acts of strength that would be almost impossible without pranayama. Other teachers and yoga philosophers note that sensitivity is increased with pranayama practise, something that I’m beginning to notice more during classes I attend.
Ujjayi breathing (and indeed other forms) works in concert with the locks (mula bandha, uddiyana bandha and jalandhara bundha) to subtly engage muscles throughout the body and engage the core. Other techniques can be added to ujjayi breathing to expand upon the practise as students progress and deepen their awareness.
During my daily life I now make an effort to consciously note my breathing, especially if I feel stressed, nervous or unwell. It’s at these times I breath the least effectively and making an effort to focus on each inhale and exhale while deeply breathing into the belly calms my body and mind. Certainly an excellent technique for managing road rage and dickheads!