Working With Life Force
4th of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, the name Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words; Prana, meaning Life Force and Ayama meaning extend and/or control. This practice works the breath and life force movement in our system.
My education so far has been mostly with Dr. Naina Marballi and Dr. Vasat Lad, along with some time during my 200hr YTT and other Healing Arts trainings.
In India, where this Yoga tradition stems from, when somebody transitions from this existence, it's said that they have expired: Respiration; Inspiration; Expiration: Breath is life.
There are said to be 5 types of Prana in our system. Pranayama exercises, sometimes in collaboration with Mudra, Mantra, and other forms of Meditation including Asana (poses), work with different elements and aspects of our energy channels, types of Prana, and with the ways that they relate with the overall system.
While seeming relatively simple, the approach through the breath is a wonderfully powerful therapy for body, mind, and spirit. I sincerely and highly recommend it, and with a responsible practitioner:
Pranayama can be taken quite lightly. I have too often seen it instructed and/or prescribed in such a way It is a very serious practice with quite strong impacts on the body. A practice with a strong impact can be absolutely wonderful IF it is the right one for the practitioner. That said, there are contraindications to quite a few of the most popular breath practices and I advise you to always take great caution and care when taking the word of anyone about such things, even in a random Yoga class. Ask if there are contraindications if you're concerned, or even just curious. The answer, or lack thereof, will tell you all you need to know. Know that you do not have to follow any Pranayama instruction to remain in any class and that even simply observing your own breath is always a strong and available alternative option.
Some people only get 5-10 hrs of information on Pranyayama within a teacher training and not all trainings or even teachers are focused on the medical implications (I am lucky that a number of mine have been). There are others that have only learned the spiritual /energetic side, and were not made as aware by virture of that style of education. Some just were not concerned, and some remain unconcerned, with effects when it comes to the physical manifestation of those energies. As with all things, take care of yourself. People at different ages, stages, of different sexes, etc, have varying hormonal, energetic, and other states, stability, vulnerabilities, and imbalances. If your teacher isn't aware, and especially if they dismiss these things, I advise you to procede with caution. As ini any discipline one could be a marvelus practioner, but that does not necessarily make one a strong or even a responsible teacher.
This tradition has been passed down for 1,000's of years because it is powerful, and it does work. I have looked at TCM and Sowa Rigpa along with Ayurveda. In all three, the lungs are known as the emotional storehouse for grief. And those with phlegm are said by some to have uncried tears. Different emotions are stored in various areas of the body and, as they each address different system ingredients in different ways, Pranayama can help to give flow to the Prana in those areas to help us to let go and release anything that could be contributing to stagnation and other incarnations of dis-ease. Emotional releases, along with mental and physical improvements, are always a joy for me to witness and I recommend that you allow any releases (in the spaces you feel safe) to flow through you if they come up to be released.
Finally, as Dr. Lad says, nobody can see your breath; you can practice certain Pranayam very comfortably in public with nobody able to see what you are doing. It can become a lovely trick to have at any time you feel you need to restore yourself back into balance.
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