Yogas eight limbs – Part Five – Pranayama (Breath)

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Last week I discussed Asana or postures of yoga.  According to the yogic philosophy the asana was just a prelude to deeper meditative states which lead to samadhi (an enlightened state of spiritual consciousness).  The breath is energy, prana, or chi.   Ancient yoga texts teach that the controlled breath (life force, life energy) is at the heart of yoga.   The prana (breath or life force) can be harnessed and channeled through breathing exercises. Breathing exercises have the ability to soothe our frazzled nervous system,  re-energize our tired bodies, or wrangle our wild minds.

The breath is part of the autonomic nervous system which has two parts, sympathetic (like the gas pedal in the car) and parasympathetic (like the brake pedal in the car).  The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system are antagonists.  The sympathetic nervous system is catabolic which means it tears the body down while the parasympathetic builds or nourishes the body.  By slowing and deepening the breath we can control  or turn “off” the sympathetic system.  So you can guess the goal is to keep the sympathetic nervous system off for longer periods for better health.  Breathing exercises are a beautiful tool to help you turn off the sympathetic response in your body and mind.  The controlled breath can channel healing and regenerating energy to nourish the bodies cells in the parasympathetic state.

So what breathing exercises do you start with?  I would recommend the three-part breath or dirga pranayama.   This is probably the easiest to learn.

  • Begin by lying on your back, eyes closed, and relax your face and body.
  • Next just observe your natural breath, the inhalation and exhalation process.  If your mind begins to wander, notice the thoughts and think of them as clouds passing through the clear blue sky of your mind, not focusing or fixating on any one thought.
  • Once you have relaxed a bit, begin to inhale deeply through the nose and fill the belly first with the breath like expanding a balloon, perhaps counting to 3.
  • Next draw in a little more breath to expand the rib cage.  You should feel your ribs expand out to the sides a bit.
  • Thirdly, draw in yet a bit more breath filling the upper chest up to your collar bones.
  • On the exhalation work you way back down, first exhaling the upper chest, then the rib cage, and finally releasing the air in the belly feeling the navel push back towards the spine.  An additional helpful aid is to place a hand over your belly and perhaps over your ribcage so that you can concentrate on making those areas rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.  Continue this breathing exercise for 5- 10 rounds or whatever is most comfortable.

Energy, vibrations, and breath are connected.  Even ancient scriptures and texts state that the breath is connected to our life energy and our spirit.  Don’t waste your breath!!!


“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”  Nikola Tesla

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One Response to Yogas eight limbs – Part Five – Pranayama (Breath)

  1. Pingback: Seventh limb of yoga – Dhyana | Working it Out

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