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Breath Mastery: Pranayama Practice
Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning life force with pranayama being a set of techniques to master the movement of this life force through the breath. Prana is the undercurrent of our breath, which connects our subtle divine nature with our physicality. As a result, our breath is intimately connected to and runs through all realms of our being – the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects. Because of this connection, our emotional and mental state affects our breath and vice versa.
Most of us find that when we contract in fear, our breath is cut short. We gasp or our breath freezes. When we expand in love or a feeling of wellbeing, our breath becomes deeper and fuller, and moves freely through our body.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. We can use specific breath techniques to master our breath to affect our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual state in a positive way.
There are many pranayama techniques, which focus on bringing health and radiance into different realms of our being. Fundamental to them all is the recognition of our breath as a vehicle for pure oxygen, energy and light always available to shift our internal and external life experience. Below are three pranayama techniques offered by Sai Maa:
To practice the Oujai Breath:
- Breathe only through the nose and close the back of the throat just slightly. This results in a rasping sound with each breath. This breath should be loud, clear and strong like ocean waves.
By breathing through the nose, the breath is filtered. Oxygen and life force move freely into the brain, and especially into the pineal gland.
To practice Conscious Breathing:
- Practice being aware of every breath as it passes in and out of the body. This gentle awareness of the breath brings a sense of calm and ease as we become conscious of the present moment.
- You may also use conscious breathing with your intention and imagination to direct light into your physical and subtle bodies. This is most effective when we practice cyclic breathing, which builds and harnesses life force in the breath. Breathe at a normal, comfortable speed and rhythm but without pausing between the in and out breaths. Allow the breath to become one continuous flow.
Breath of Fire:
To practice the Breath of Fire:
- Sit with the spine straight, the chest open and the shoulders relaxed.
- Inwardly direct the eyes up to gaze at the 1st eye between the eyebrows (Ajna chakra) and curl the tongue up, touching the upper palate. These positions assist in creating a circular flow of energy through the body while practicing the breath technique.
- Place hands in “Maha-Chin mudra” (with thumb covering nail of pointer finger) and rest the hands on the knees with the palms facing upwards. This mudra symbolizes the Supreme Self super-imposing itself on the ego or small self. You may also choose to use one of mudras outlined below.
- Breathe only through the nose, and exhale strongly, pressing back on the abdomen. Allow the inhale to happen by itself.
- Begin slowly with a steady rhythm, then gradually breathe faster, and finally breathe as fast as you can.
This is best practiced for 3-5 minutes.
There are several “mudras” we can hold while practicing pranayama. Mudras are hand and body positions that assist in moving energy through specific channels in the physical and subtle anatomy. Below are five different mudras you may use with the Breath of Fire.
- Place hands in “Maha-Chin mudra” (with thumb covering nail of pointer finger) and rest the hands on the knees with the palms facing upwards. This mudra symbolizes the Supreme Self super-imposing itself on the ego or small self.
- Place hands in a fist with the thumbs pointing upwards. Rest the hands on the knees keeping the thumb pointing upwards. This mudra symbolizes the Supreme Self pointing upwards.
- Place hands on the hips. Position the hands so that the thumbs are both pointing towards the spine. This mudra assists in strengthening the 1st and 2nd chakras.
- Place thumbs underneath the armpits, with the four fingers of each hand parallel to the ground and on the chest. On the inhale, move the elbows backward and toward each other. On the exhale, bring the elbows forward and toward each other. This mudra assists in opening and expanding the heart center.
- Inhale and raise the arms straight up above the head, keeping the arms next to the ears, and the palms, facing forward. On the exhale, bring the arms strongly down next to the sides with elbows bent, and closing the fingers in a fist over the thumb. This mudra serves to energize the body with light.
Breath of Fire Precautions:
- Always practice on an empty stomach, or at least 4 hours after eating (early in the morning is best). Practicing before or during meditation will help to clear and settle the mind.
- Never strain the body, but notice the difference between the mind’s fears and the body’s actual limitations. Maximum benefit will be received when we move beyond a sense of limitation with a calm, clear intention and a relaxed body.