By Faye Martins
Pranayama refers to various breathing techniques used during meditation and yoga. When you breathe correctly, the lungs and diaphragm fill up, causing new blood and oxygen to flow throughout the body to the vital organs. Fresh blood to the brain can renew your thoughts and energy levels. Pranayama is an extremely vital part of any yoga teacher training program, because breathing is a vital process of life. A yoga instructor should know the benefits pranayama provides, the foundational techniques, and the safety guidelines associated with each technique.
Breathing keeps us alive. As we go about our day, our minds become busy with thoughts, tasks, worries, and decisions. We often “forget” to breathe. Most people let their bodies take over, but that results in shallow breathing. Deep, intentional breathing will bring fresh oxygen into the body and help it thrive. Shallow breathing will merely keep us alive, but deep breathing will keep us alive and healthy. Pranayama affects our overall health and wellness, decreases stress and anxiety levels, focuses and energizes the mind, and can cure illness.
When you are new to pranayama, it helps to have some basic techniques to fall back on. Yoga instructors can teach a few basics to their classes so students can start to create an understanding of pranayma. The first thing students need to know is how to achieve a complete, deep breath. Begin the breath by slowly pulling in air to puff up the abdomen, then the chest, and then gently keep inhaling until you cannot inhale anymore. Let the breath out slowly and controlled. Let students practice several times to get the feel of their entire abdomens and chest cavities filling up with air. It is helpful to place the hands on the belly or chest to feel it rising and falling with each breath.
Alternate nostril breathing is a common pranayama. Close one nostril by pressing the thumb to it, inhale deeply, then hold the breath for a second or two while releasing the thumb and closing the other nostril by pressing a finger to it, then exhale and repeat. The breath will bring energy and vitality into the body.
Breath of fire is also a common pranayama that involves pushing the air out through the nostrils forcefully. Each person’s rate of expulsion will differ, depending on his or her experience and capacity. Instruct students to inhale naturally, and then exhale quickly. Students might do about 20 or 30 expulsions at first, and then gradually increase as they gain experience.
There are many foundational pranayama techniques taught at Yoga certification schools; among them are: Ujjayi, Udgeeth, Bhastrika, Kapalbhati, Brahmari, Dirgha, and Sheetali. Whether you choose an onsite or online yoga school, you will learn these techniques and many more.
Advise your yoga students to see a doctor before beginning pranayama practice. Make sure to practice in a place with clean air, free of smoke or other toxins. During class, remind students to relax and not focus too hard on the breathing. If they become dizzy, or breathing becomes laborious, tell them to take a break. Pranayama practice should be slow and gentle.
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