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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Breathing

"The Yogi, using the method of pranayama, is able to absorb the energy from the infinite mass that exists behind, uses this energy for his quick growth, and within a short time is able to reach the highest perfection."
-Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

On Wednesday, I began a new series, pointing out what it is to live the yogic lifestyle by discussing the five points of yoga developed by my guru, Swami Vishnu-devananda.  Today we move on to the second point, proper breathing.

 So, what does it mean to breath "properly"?  In my particular yoga tradition, it means to use the yogic breath, or, three-part breath. To complete the yogic breath, follow these steps:
1. Inhale slowly but deeply into the abdomen.
2.  Once the abdomen is full, start expanding the ribcage.
3.  The last step is the raise the clavicles (collarbones).
The exhale should be done in the same order by caving in the abdomen, ribcage, and finally lowering the clavicles.

But, why breathe this way? The yogic breath places emphasis on using full lung capacity, thus allowing for the intake of more oxygen on the inhale and the release of more toxins on the exhale.  Breathing this way makes us more conscious of how we breath, balances the energy in our system, and helps us use this energy for a higher purpose (Fingers crossed for enlightenment!)

However, the yogic breath alone won't cut it for serious yoga practitioners: It must be combined with pranayama exercises as well.  Pranayama is important because it allows for the control of prana (energy) in the body, thus leading to the control of one's mind (aka serious preparation for obtaining enlightenment).  It is recommended that 15-20 minutes be done everyday.  The two most popular pranayama techniques are Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma, also knows as breath of fire and alternate nostril breathing.  If you are interested in learning these techniques, I would recommend asking a yoga teacher to demonstrate or finding a video on youtube, as describing them can be very difficult.

If you have any questions on proper breathing techniques, please, feel free to ask. Or, you can check out the Sivananda website for more information. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta.

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