By Azahar Aguilar
Life breath, life energy, life force. Pranayama is the vital energy behind a yoga asana practice, and instructors have the opportunity in every class to make time for the basics, if not more advanced techniques as well. Wonderful moments exist at the beginning, middle or end of a practice, no matter the style of class, which offer space for the instructor to speak on the importance of pranayama, and the tools that guide prana energy.
If new faces populate an instructor’s class, the simple emphasis of pranayama building blocks can create such a different experience for yoga students. Duo space exists to remind veterans to focus on the prana, and to newcomers, the opportunity to view their breath and body anew.
Certain practices have pranayama exercises and explanations built directly in, Bikram and Hot Yoga does this well by always incorporating Pranayama at the beginning of the course with Standing Deep Breathing and at the end with Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath). Other practices can incorporate attention on the breath exercises in key poses.
Standing Deep Breathing: At the beginning of class, the pupils stand tall, feet slightly separated, shoulders pulled back, crown of the head lifted. Gather the hands together in a fist down to the webbing, and place the thumbs against the throat and the knuckles underneath the chin. Relax the shoulders and exhale out all stale air through the mouth. Slowly lift the elbows up toward the ceiling on an inhale through the nose, to the count of five or six seconds, biceps parallel and shoulders stay down. Once the elbows reach shoulder height, slowly exhale out the breath for the same five to six seconds, through an open mouth. At the same time tilt the head back to open the throat, squeeze the elbows as close together as possible with arms parallel with the floor. Repeat this process ten times, and bring elbows down to neutral to complete each circle and begin again.
As the practitioners activate their bellies in this exercise, encourage them to fully fill the belly with breath – to expand it out into