By Shahid Mishra
When teaching yoga classes there are times when you are the translator of ancient practices. It is always important to do your research, confirm it, use it, apply it and then teach your students about your findings and some of the history about the yogic technique you are teaching. Most students expect you to know everything, but one, two or three yoga teacher certification courses are not the end all of yogic knowledge. The pure truth is a yoga instructor or a student’s path never ends, when considering the pursuit of yogic knowledge.
Pranayama is commonly known as the breathing portion of yoga. Most yoga practices incorporate some type of pranayama, either while performing postures, while meditating or both. In its simplest form pranayma is breathing, however it goes a bit deeper than that. The word “Prana,” means “life force,” and “yama” means “discipline.” Together, then, the word loosely means controlling the life force within yourself. It is intended to not only expand the breath but also to reach a deeper place of spiritual enlightenment.
Stages of Pranayama
This subject isn’t often mentioned in many yoga teacher trainings and it is not to be confused with the four stages of breathing There are four stages of pranayama: Arambha, Ghata, Parichay and Nispatti. The first stage, Arambha, is the most basic understanding of pranayama where one realizes that deeper breathing can result in numerous benefits. The second stage, Ghata, is where the three Sarira, or Buddhist relics, unite. The third stage, Parichay, involves a deeper and fuller knowing of pranayama. The final stage of pranayama, Nispatti, allows one to go outside of their physical body to become enlightened.
Stages of Breathing
There are also four stages of breathing which are integral to practicing pranayama. The first stage is the inhalation, or Puraka. Ideally, the inhalation should be a continuous and smooth drawing in of breath. The second stage of the breath is a pause after the initial inhale, or Abhyantara Kumbhaka. The idea is to hold the air in the lungs for a moment without any movement at all. The next stage of breathing is the exhale, or Rechaka. The exhale should be as smooth and continuous as the inhale. A perfect exhale will not use the muscles to force the air out but rather let the air out smoothly by being totally relaxed. The final stage of breathing is another pause, or Bahya Kumbhaka. This final pause before the next inhale marks the end of one breath and the start of the next.
Benefits of Pranayama
Whether you have a deep understanding of pranayma or a more basic idea, pranayama can still provide amazing benefits. Deep breathing releases the toxins from our blood and body by improving circulation. It can help with digestion and prevent disease. Breathing exercises help develop focus and concentration while providing a healthy way to relieve stress and anxiety. It is a wonderful tool to have to employ when life gets overwhelming or in situations of conflict. Pranayama gives people a healthy way to cope with all of life’s challenges and provides a deeper understanding of one’s self.
Proper breathing applied to real life is the true test. You can teach yoga classes that constantly focus on proper breathing, but it means little if your students do not apply it to life. For instructors, in particular, this is a matter of walking the talk. No matter how many yoga teacher trainings we participate in, we must apply and live what we learn. The instructor who cannot hold his or her tongue is an example of one who knows, but does not practice or apply.
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