Breathing

The ancient yogic pratice of breathwork is praticed in a seated posture, unlike the asana yoga practices. Breathwork uses specific movements of breath to move our prana energy around the body.
Breathing
Year founded
300 BC

The yogic practice of breathwork is also known as Pranayama and originates from ancient India, where it was practiced as early as 600BC. The Sanskrit word Pranayama comes from the words Prana (life force, energy) and Ayama (to draw out or extend).

Breathwork is suitable for all students of yoga, no matter their age or ability. It is practiced in a seated position and is accessible for anyone who is interested.

Pranayama (breathwork) was written about in early yogic, Hindu texts the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Pranayama is the fourth of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga, after the Yamas, Niyamas and Asana. Breathwork aka Pranayama prepares the mind and body for the limbs of yoga that follow; Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration).

What to expect from a breathwork class:

Breathwork is a practice that controls and regulates the breath through carefully taught breathing techniques. Breathwork (aka Pranayama) practices can clear physical and emotional blocks so that the breath and prana flows freely around the body.

Pranayama uses the breath to expand the flow of prana through energy channels in our body. While focusing on breath is a common part of most yoga practices, breathwork is a sequence of very specific breathing exercises that can be shared in a standalone class, or in a Hatha yoga practice, usually placed at the beginning of a Hatha class.

Pranayama techniques centre on the four parts of the breath:

  • Inhalation

  • Internal retention (holding the breath in)

  • Exhalation

  • External retention (holding the breath out)

Pranayama sessions build up slowly, starting by bringing awareness to the breath with gentle exercises and a few minutes of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breath) before practicing exercises that focus on internal retention or external retention of breath. No matter the exercise, your breath should be fluid and smooth, never held for so long that you become uncomfortable.

Benefits of breathwork:

The main philosophy of breathwork is that our everyday lives burden us all with physical or emotional blocks in our bodies which obstruct the flow of prana – our life force / energy. Practising breathwork clears these blocks in our body so prana and breath can flow fluidly, allowing our mind and bodies to function properly, so we feel calm and clear.

At A Class:

Much like an Asana yoga class, it is suggested that you do not eat for an hour before a breathwork class. Drinking water prior to a class is fine, but bear in mind that you will be engaging your abdominem in some exercises so don’t fill your stomach.

Dress in your usual yoga clothes, making sure you’ll be comfortable for the class duration.

Breathwork is practiced seated, maintaining a tall spine. Seated poses that may be suggested are Sukhasana / Cross-legged Pose, Virasana / Hero’s Pose or Padmasana / Lotus Pose.

Some breathwork exercises are not recommended for pregnant women and women who are menstruating, such as Bhastrika (Bellows Breath) or Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire aka Skull Shining Breath). Also, any exercises which include breath retention is not recommended for people who have issues with their heart or blood pressure.

Teacher training:

Breathwork Alliance are the official association that list training courses: https://breathworkalliance.com/certified-schools/

The International Breathing Conference will be held on 6th-13th August 2022 in Landshut, Germany. Read their website for more information: https://www.gic2022.com/en/home-2/

Reference books:

  • Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga (1969)
  • Light on Pranayama by B. K. S. Iyengar (1981)
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (2021)

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