As we continue to explore the poses and our breathing practices, we are expanding our level of awareness. We are learning to pay attention. We are discovering what it is to be in the present moment. And, it is in the present moment that we experience our true “state of yoga.” It is where we see our connection and remember who we are.
The fourth limb of the yogic system is pranayama or breath control. It is made up of a range of techniques that begin with simple awareness and continue on with more intensive control approaches.
Although pranayama is an integral part of yoga, the practice is not generally taught until a student is comfortable resting with their breath in either a supine or seated position. In this way, a student learns to relax completely in order to receive the breath.
Breathing practices give your mind focus – you virtually tune in when you pay attention to your breath. This can occur whether you are in a resting pose or actively performing the asanas. As many teachers will tell you, “if it is not with the breath, it is not yoga.”
A good way to begin the practice of pranayama is to focus on your belly breath:
Step #1: Lie on your back. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other over your lower ribs. As you gently inhale and exhale, notice which way your hands are moving. Don’t try to change anything at the moment, just notice.
Step #2: Then inhale, and on the next exhalation gently contract your abdominal muscles, bringing your navel in the direction of your spine. With a little or no muscular effort, let your abdomen gently lift as you inhale. Breathe this way for a minute or so.
Step #3: Go back to your natural breathing rhythm. Observe any changes in your mind or body.
Pay attention to the texture, quality and the places that your body breathes. When do you hold your breath? Where are you breathing? Can you relax enough to allow the body to breathe you?