Just as the term “yoga” refers to the union of self and divinity, it can also refer to the union of mind and body. But how does yoga bring mind and body into harmony? It is through the breath that the physical processes of the body and mind are united. Without breathing, yoga is just a series of bent poses, as noted Ashtanga yoga teacher Kino MacGregor points out. Breathing is the backbone of yoga. This distinguishes yoga from many other forms of exercise.
However, to yoga newbies, the process and tradition of yogic breathing can seem complex and intimidating. To add to the confusion, proper yogic breathing isn’t always taught in the classroom. Imagine walking into a room full of yogis, all doing a series of exercises, breathing so loudly that you can hear them all around you, but not knowing what to do with your aspen Tongan yoga practice.
There are many different types of yoga practices, and Ashtanga yoga is considered one of the more physically demanding and dynamic forms of yoga. It consists of a system of yoga poses practiced in the same order each time. There are six series (major, minor, etc.) that contain poses of increasing difficulty, but generally focus on sun salutations and tandems. Breathing is very important in Ashtanga yoga, more so than in other yoga styles because of this fixed sequence. Each pose is associated with inhalation or exhalation. Each series even dictates how many breaths each pose should take. In a guided Ashtanga class, the teacher counts breaths aloud for the students. In a Mysore-style Ashtanga class, students practice at their own pace, with the teacher walking around the room to provide support when needed. There are many types of yogic breathing, but Ashtanga uses the Ujjayi technique, which is discussed in more detail later in this article.
The Ashtanga yoga system was developed in India by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, also known as “Guruji”. Jois was a student of Krishnamacharya, who later also played an important role in the development of Ashtanga. The popularity of the Ashtanga method was due in part to Joyce’s pilgrimage to the West to spread the message of yoga. He trained many yoga students and teachers from London to Los Angeles, who made the pilgrimage to Mysore, India, to practice at his Ashtanga Yoga Institute. The academy is the only place in the world where officially certified yoga teachers can teach the Ashtanga method. Sadly, Jois passed away in 2009. However, Ashtanga continues to exist around the world and is practiced by students of Jois and their pupils.
Although we use the term “yogic breathing,” the correct Sanskrit term is pranayama. Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga. There are eight branches of yoga in total, and together they offer teachings and guidance on how to live a yogic life and journey to enlightenment. The word Ashtanga itself actually means “eight limbs,” showing how important this philosophical background is to the entire practice. As a fourth limb, pranayama includes a variety of breathing techniques, each with different benefits.
Pranayama is more than just breathing. To understand it, look at the meaning behind the language. “Prana” is a Sanskrit word meaning vitality or life force. It refers to the life energy that flows through all living beings, but can become stagnant due to physical illness or mental stress.
When you inhale, you receive strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are providing to the world. BKS Iyengar
The second half of the word “Ayama” means to extend. Pranayama is a practice of expanding and controlling life energy through breathing. It can be regarded as simple breathing, but it is much more than that.
Benefits of Pranayama
Benefits of Pranayama
The physical benefits of yogic breathing include enhanced detoxification, calming heart rate, massaging internal organs, strengthening the diaphragm, improving circulation, and more. An important physical benefit of pranayama is calming the nervous system. Regulates the body’s stress response by calming the parasympathetic nervous system.
Physical benefits naturally come with emotional and spiritual benefits. When the body is aligned and calm, the mind follows. Pranayama practice brings about a concentrated state of mind, increases focus and more. This is just one example of how the breath acts as a shackle between mind and body.
Breathing in Ashtanga Yoga: Ujjayi Pranayama
Breath of Ashtanga Yoga Ujjayi Pranayama
The type of pranayama used in the Ashtanga yoga practice is called Ujjayi. In English, it means “breath of victory”. Ujjayi breathing has inhalation and exhalation of equal length. It works by inhaling and exhaling through the nose and gently constricting the glottis at the back of the throat. A soft “ha” sound is heard with each inhalation and exhalation, although there is no tension in the throat. An easy way to learn Ujjayi breathing is to imagine yourself breathing with your mouth open, like trying to fog up a mirror. Now perform the same motion, but with your mouth shut. This is Ujayi breath.
Ashtanga Breath Counts
Ashtanga Breath Counts
As mentioned earlier, in Ashtanga yoga there is breath counting. Each pose is associated with an inhalation or exhalation, and the number of breaths for each pose is predetermined. In guided Ashtanga lessons, the teacher counts aloud in Sanskrit and the students breathe to the beat. in mysore