By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
If you are a new Yoga instructor, teaching traditional pranayama practices to your students may seem intimidating at first. However, incorporating breathing exercises into a sequence of Yoga asanas will increase the benefit of the practice many times over. As the physical postures of Yoga release muscular tension and increase flexibility and strength, the breathing practices help to nourish all the tissues of the body with fresh oxygen and increase the flow of vital life energy, known in Sanskrit as prana.
Many pranayama exercises also help to combat anxiety, depression and sluggish thinking. The Sudharshan Kriya is a very good exercise for balancing brain chemistry and relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. A number of other breathing practices, such as Alternate Nostril Breathing and Ujjayi Pranayama, work beautifully to balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, leave a Yoga practitioner feeling both energized and deeply relaxed.
Many pranayama exercises are very effective for grounding, releasing tension and increasing the flow of oxygen throughout the entire body. Dirga Pranayama is a Yogic breathing exercise that is very simple for new students to learn. This pranayama exercise will help your students to become aware of their breathing patterns as they learn to expand their lung capacity fully and exhale completely. This practice also helps to balance the length of the inhale and the exhale, which offsets the tendency to breath shallowly when we are rushed, stressed or upset.
Dirga Pranayama is usually taught at the beginning of a Yoga class or just prior to a period of meditation and/or Shavasana. To begin the instruction of Dirga Pranayama, have your students sit comfortably on their mats in Easy Seat. Encourage any of your students with tight hips to sit on a folded blanket or pillow for added support. Have them take a few deep breaths and with their next breath, divide the inhale into three equal parts. Dirga Pranayama is also known as the Three Part Breath.
Instruct your students to inhale for a count of two up to the area just below their belly button, and pause for a moment. Next, have them inhale up to the area of their lower ribs for a count of two, and then pause for a moment. Finally, have them inhale to their full