The theme of the month in March at the studio is Pranayama, we broadly all understand this as breath work or breathing practices but spare me a moment to dissect this word PranaYama.
Prana is life force, energy of in Chinese medicine terms, chi. Prana exists in every living thing. Some creatures and things have more vital life force then others. Sometimes we can feel lacking in Prana but other times full and bright. It’s that feeling when you come out of a really good yoga class and you get that tingling, yoga buzz feeling – that’s Prana whizzing about. Or when you eat really fresh farmers market vegetables and you feel lighter and brighter, because that food was full of prana.
Ayama in Sanskrit means to retain or control. So in a simple sense we can view pranayama as manipulating or controlling our life force.
As an aside Yama in Indian mythology is the Lord of Death (kinda like the grim reaper but more intellectual and chatty). It strikes me as appropriate that when we stop breathing, when we run out of life force, we die. We go to Yama. But while living we have the power and ability to keep Yama at bay by being the master of our own Prana, pranayama is one way for us to stay in control of our own health.
The quality of your breath can be a great why to understand the state of your mind. For example when we are stressed our breath becomes shallow and quick, it’s a great indicator on the yoga mat as to whether you are finding sweetness in your physical yoga practice or straining and pushing too far.
One teacher of mine, Tamara James, who is coming to visit us from Australia in June, always said that the real ‘advanced’ practice of yoga was pranayama, not the fancy physical shapes.
My Lotus Flow teacher, Jasmine Tarkeshi, always said that mantra is painting the breath with colour. We have to breath deeply to chant and in practicing mantra meditation, not only are we breathing deeply, practicing Bhakti yoga (yoga of love and devotion) but we are also meditating. It’s why, I think, Swami Sivananda said that mantra was the quickest way to self realisation. And I’d be amiss here not to mention we offer mantra meditation every Saturday morning at 8am in the studio!
And yet another teacher who I admire greatly, Mark Whitwell, says that today’s yoga has mostly forgotten about the power of pranayama and swapped it for the focus on physically shapes. Pranayama he said, was the more important practice on our yoga path.
Through varying pranayama practices we can calm the nervous system, bring a sense of balance into the body and mind, cool down, heat up, energise, find focus and ultimately move towards meditation a little easier.
Hopefully in the studio this month you will experience and learn a variety of different pranayama practices that you can then use in your everyday life. In the meantime, if you have any questions and pranayama, just ask one of our teachers, who will be happy to chat!