I actually cannot remember the first time I heard a teacher say the word “pranayama” in a yoga class. The word slipped into my vocabulary, unbeknownst to me, a couple of years after I took my first yoga class in college. But my understanding of the word, and the importance of the practice it refers to, came years later.
Aside from being a slight tongue twister, pranayama is one of the eight limbs, or the ashtavangani, of traditional yoga. Prana means energy or life force, and ayama means expansion. Therefore, the word roughly translates to “expansion of our life force.” When we talk about pranayama, we’re almost always referring to breathing techniques, which are really the tools we use to cultivate this expansion of life force.
You may have been taught some breathing techniques in a class at Tranquil Space – many of our teachers incorporate these techniques in their classes. You’re also likely familiar with ujjayi, victorious breath, which we work with throughout our asana practice to help lengthen the breath and warm the body. But, pranayama – like meditation – can also be a practice in and of itself, separate from asana.
Next year, I will have been a yoga practitioner for ten years, though I have had my off and on spurts with practice. And while I was initially hyper focused on asana (and still love it!), I, like many yogis, feel myself gravitating to what are sometimes called the “subtler practices” of yoga: pranayama and meditation. It’s quite common for us to focus more on asana as we begin our practice, especially in our most youthful years, and over time, grow our pranayama and meditation practices. Eventually, one’s practice might consist of only pranayama and meditation, particularly as we approach our later years in life. (Unless you happen to be 93 years old and can still rock out a peacock pose. Which I hope is the case for many of us!)
In my experiences with pranayama, I’ve found the effects of different techniques can range drastically from releasing energy to cultivating energy, grounding to invigorating, enhancing focus to making me laugh. Yes, some of the techniques can seem a little silly at first! Like asana, there are many different pranayama techniques you can work with, and there is a technique to fit just about any energetic intention.
This weekend, I am excited to host my first workshop at Tranquil Space focused entirely on pranayama. We’ll spend a little bit of time talking about this practice, doing some preparatory asana, and then practice some breathing techniques for a full hour. All levels are welcome, and if you’re curious what it might be like, you can listen to a 15-minute pranayama practice by clicking here for a sneak peak.