Can we extend the lifespan through yoga?
Breathing Technique - Pranayama
What do we mean by pranayama in yoga?
Now quickly in the headstand. Let's see if the “neighbor mat” can do it as well as I can. With us in the West, yoga is often seen only as a physical exercise to strengthen the back, achieve a higher level of fitness or achieve better flexibility. Is that really all that yoga wants to embody?
When we deal with our breathing and engage in pranayama, new doors of sensation open and the real journey on the path of yoga begins. A lesson only becomes a yoga lesson when pranayama exercises (breathing exercises) start the lesson and end it again. This is one of the differences to pure fitness. We want to learn more about ourselves through the breath - to dive deeper.
Where does the breathing technique originate?
In the ancient Indian scriptures, the Vedas, Pranayama is translated as Prana = life energy and Yama = control that goes beyond breathing. Breathing is a very versatile tool. It supports us in relaxation, it supplies our body with oxygen and energy, it is the key and the link between body, mind and also our soul. Through breathing we can restrain our mind and let our thoughts come to rest.
According to an Indian scholar, Patanjali, who, according to legend, lived in the 4th century AD, pranayama has a very special role. He was concerned with the possibilities of attaining mastery over one's own mind in order to experience enlightenment. He is often referred to as the father of yoga, as his writings are one of the most important foundations of yoga to this day.
The first five links of his eightfold path are also known as Kriya Yoga (practical yoga) and the last three (Dhãranã, Dhyãna, Samãdhi) as Raja Yoga (royal yoga - power over the mind).
The eightfold path at a glance from the perspective of the practicing yogi.
1. Yamas - How do I deal with my environment
2. Niyamas - How do I deal with myself
3. Asanas - How do I strengthen my body
4. Pranayama - how do I work with my breath
5. Pratayahara - How can I withdraw my senses
6. Dharana - How do I achieve focus and concentration
7. Dhyana - how do I meditate
8. Samadhi - How do I connect with my highest self
Breathing techniques help us to reach these higher levels of the 8-part path. Only through pranayama can we get to deeper meditations step by step. For many beginners in yoga, the first conscious breathing is a first, new and important step towards mindfulness and body awareness.
In the first beginner lessons I like to start with a little story from a workshop with the yoga teacher Shribhyshyam (son of the yoga master Sri Krishnamacharya), who is very much appreciated by me. With a smile he told us that with every yoga class we are extending our lives. Through the symbolism he wanted to convey to us that we can direct our life energy through conscious breathing and learn to breathe more gently and longer using the techniques of pranayama. He also gave us the thought that when we were born we would receive a present - a treasure chest full of breaths. Comparable to a rechargeable battery that is fully charged. It is now up to us how carefully we treat our treasure, that is, how quickly we use it up. Our hectic everyday life here in the West does not always contribute to the practice of mindfulness. Yoga always wants to give us new impulses to slow down. Pranayama gives us the opportunity to bring body, mind and soul into harmony. To put it in yoga language, pranayama helps us discover our true nature and expose the veil of illusion. By veil we mean the external influences that distract us and blind our view of the essentials.
The breath of life - from involuntary breathing to conscious breathing
Our brains miraculously ensure that we breathe in and out regularly without even thinking about it. On a physical level, we supply oxygen to the body and every single cell in the body, and with exhalation we break down the energy used up. On average, the adult person breathes 12-18 times a minute.
What mistakes do we like to make in everyday life?
Our breath is like a seismograph in the body. What is wrong is our inattention and lack of body awareness. Our breath adapts directly to everyday situations. When exerted, it is activating, faster and more powerful. At this moment he wants to supply the body with a lot of energy so that every cell in the body is well supplied. With inner tension and nervousness we suddenly breathe very shallowly, we are on the alert and very sensitive. In these situations, because of the tension, you no longer breathe deeply. Actually, we should now breathe more deeply to become calmer again. We use this knowledge in yoga and consciously influence our breath during breathing exercises. We let it flow slowly, become aware of every breath and reduce breathing to 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Experienced yogis may only breathe 5 to 8 times a minute. The aim is to deepen the breath. This is the only way to create space for new, fresh energy - inhalation. We concentrate on the space of silence between the breaths.
How can I best integrate pranayama into my everyday life?
I always recommend beginners to use the 1-minute tool more often a day. Just count to 6 or 8, so inhale 1, exhale 1, inhale 2 and exhale 2, etc. It is important that you really focus our attention on the breath during this time. This is a huge step for many people, even though it only takes about 1 minute. Because in this minute we are tricking our minds a little. Through counting and targeted perception, other thoughts no longer find space. We are totally in the here and now. I can use these small, regenerative breathing pauses almost anywhere, for example in the queue at a cash register or in front of the red light.
Another exercise is abdominal breathing. It is easiest to do if we lie in a comfortable position on our back for 5 to 10 minutes. We gently place our right hand on our stomach and try to breathe into our stomach. Now we feel how the hand rises with the inhalation and lowers again with the exhalation. We try to be a watchful, relaxed observer. Do we breathe in or out longer? Before going to bed, this breathing exercise is a very good way to slip into sleep well rested.
Alternating breathing is often practiced in yoga classes. The aim is to bring the energies in our body back into harmony and balance. If there is too much energy, it feels like we are “electrified” then we become calmer and more relaxed. If there is not enough energy, it feels like we are “down”, it helps us to activate new energy. On the energetic level, it cleans the energy channels (nadis) and lets life energy flow freely again.
According to Krishnamacharya if alternating breathing gives two breaths a round (inhale left, hold breath, exhale right, inhale right, hold breath, exhale left) and for this pranayama to have any value, a minimum of 4 rounds or 16 breaths is required.
The alternating breathing also helps to increase the lung capacity. Breathing is controlled by counting the length of the breath and concentrating on the breath. We breathe in and out exclusively through the nose and thus bring our energy into balance.
So think of the treasure chest with precious, limited breaths and give pranayama a try. You will not regret it.
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