Even though the Pranayama is not a music festival, I totally thought it was when I first started doing yoga.
Now THIS is actually a music festival. (Photo CC by Johnathan Piccolo)
The truth is a little less exciting. The Pranayama is simply the branch of yoga that has to do with the breath, and using the breath to power the asanas (poses). However boring this may sound, there’s no way to practice yoga without mindfulness of the Pranayama.
A common misconception about yoga is that the asanas are the driving force behind the practice, and that an advanced yogi has mastered all of his or her inversions and crazy yoga binds simply through training of the body. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The driving force behind yoga is the breath, and using the breath to train the mind to tolerate, and eventually accept, discomfort. It’s the breath that gives the body the ability to transition from one pose to another, and it’s the breath that allows the body to find the will to hold difficult poses for long periods of time. Basically, the body is a car and the breath is gas, and, as we all know, the car is nothing without gas to power it.
This week’s yoga practice reinforced the significance of yogic breathing for me. Since we’ve had like three weeks off from doing our independent learning project, I was a little bit rusty on hitting some of my yoga poses (seriously, its crazy how inflexible I got after just three weeks). But the second I sat down to focus on my breath, all of my physical shortcomings melted away, and I was once again able to get into the yogic state of mind.
There’s nothing more refreshing for me that sitting down and practicing Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before I begin the twisty and turny aspects of my yoga session. Victorious Breath involved taking a deep breath in, and, as one breathes out, either constricting one’s throat to create a smaller passageway for air to exit the body or just breathing out forcefully with the mouth open. Either form of Victorious Breath creates a little sound as one breathes out, a sound that, for some reason, is extremely relaxing and centering. Maintaining Victorious Breath throughout an entire practice can prove to be difficult sometimes, but helps clear the mind and rejuvenate the spirit in ways that regular breathing just can’t touch upon.
A little Victorious Breath practice with my girl, Adrienne. (video from YouTube)
The Pranayama is one of the least appreciated branches of yoga in the Westernized version of the practice, probably because us Americans want everything NOW. We don’t want to train to be yogis, and undergo all the trials that becoming a yogi entails; we want to do Headstand and Crow and all those other crazy, master poses NOW. This mentality is dangerous to the person practicing yoga, because forcing oneself into these asanas without using breath to ease into them can result in pulled muscles and an overall negative perspective on yoga. If we as a nation learned to take things a little slower and undergo all the processes necessary to master something, we would be healthier, happier, and probably not get into as many wars (but that is besides the point).
So, while the Pranayama is not an exciting music festival, it’s an integral and rewarding aspect of yoga that should be practiced by anyone attempting the activity. If you want a music festival, go check out Lollapalloza or something. (Is that even still a thing? It makes me feel old to know that I’m not up-to-date on the cool music festivals anymore. Nor was I ever, but still.)
PS. This week I did days 19-22 of Yoga with Adrienne. Go check her out, she’s pretty rad.