Yoga breathing begins with the breath or prana, which means life-force in Sanskrit. Pranayama is the process by which we learn to control the breath. Breathing is, hands down, the most important aspect of yoga. There are so many wonderful Pranayama teachers; we urge you to find one. As you step into this beginning, keep in mind these exercises should be done in sukha, the Sanskrit word for comfort and ease.
There are many types of yoga breathing. We have provided you a list of four types of breathing to facilitate your practice and health.
• If you are beginner to yoga and yoga breathing try some Deep breathing to get started.
• Ujjayi breath is a triumphant powerful breath used throughout ashtanga yoga practice.
• Take two contrasting students: Kimberly and Mike:
Kimberly was thin, lithe, and previously a dancer. There was no asana she could not get into; she was as limber as a rubber band. But her yoga breathing was often shallow and sporadic, her mind rarely focused.
On the other hand, Mike, an older construction worker, was referred to yoga by his doctor. He needed to relieve his high blood pressure, stress and relieve his chronic back pain. While he began stiff and inflexible, he soon mastered a strong, steady ujjayi breath and focus. He had a beautiful, mindful practice. How do we create a beautiful, mindful practice?
Modern, contemporary life fills our mental processes with an ever changing stream of …stuff. Look at all the thoughts of an unfocused, hungry practionaire packed into a precious minute of sun salutations: I’m starving! What should I have for breakfast? Maybe some oatmeal? There’s no soymilk left! Why are we always running out of soymilk? If I stop at the store, I’ll end up buying a whole shopping list worth of food, the morning will be shot, and I need to get that work done. Oh, look at how cute Jeannie’s outfit is. My nails! I really need to get my nails done…
This is the monkey mind. It is a mind that moves from one thought to the next with little real purpose and sometimes without much rhyme or reason. Some of these less than worthy thoughts cause tension or discomfort, especially in people who have tendencies for negative thoughts. But even optimistic types travel through life with a hyper active monkey mind. In fact research has shown that a full 80 percent of the time people’s thoughts are in the future or the past. This is the pattern for most of us.
We spend most of our time revisiting memories, and unfortunately many people are attracted to especially sad and troubling ones. Conversely, we also project ourselves into an imagined future; we try out this story and that, as if searching for the right future fit.
None of this is real. The past has already happened and short of a time travel machine, there is nothing you can do to change it. The future is an illusion and forever out of reach; it is not here. Thoughts racing through either the past or the present generally do not serve us.
A monkey mind does not cultivate internal happiness or peace. In the Yoga Sutra, the seminal text for defining the practice of yoga, Patanali tells us that yoga is essentially the stilling of these thought processes. Learning to quiet the mind is the process of learning to be in the now.
This is much more than a cliché. Being present is a powerful tool, one that brings greater self knowledge, clarity of thought and ultimately peace.
Yoga begins replacing the monkey mind by developing a clear and dispassionate state of mind. There are two tools to do this. The first is by observation of breath during practice. The second is by employing the drishtis or gaze. We focus our attention during practice by keeping a steady gaze and by listening to our breath.