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The Breath is the King of the Mind

Posted Apr 28 2009 10:00pm

What is yoga without breathing?

Acrobatics. Exercise. Anything but yoga.

The breath is such a crucial component of yoga. Breath, mind, and body together make up a yoga practice. Yet so often in classes, breathing instruction is neglected for asana (I will be offering breathing sessions by phone in the upcoming months. If you'd like to get more information, send me an email at uncommonyogi at gmail dot com). And since there are many pranayama techniques, there is often much confusion about how each technique is practiced.

A Little Breathing Introduction from BKS Iyengar

Check out this video showing breathing the Iyengar way. Perhaps with a bit -- or more likely, a lot -- of practice, you can make your breaths as long and smooth as he does.

The Big Three
The breathing practices I get a lot of questions about are the big three:

  1. Kapalabhati
  2. Breath of Fire
  3. Ujjayi

As I've racked up hours of training, I've heard a lot of conflicting thoughts about pranayama. The tradition in which I'm studying doesn't recommend Breath of Fire and only uses Kapalabhati therapeutically, whereas other traditions I've studied offer Breath of Fire and Kapalabhati as cornerstones of practice. What is agreed upon across the boards is this -- breathing is powerful (as Iyengar states in the video above -- "breathing is the king of the mind") and can make huge changes in one's health, mood, and life.

Kapalabhati is known as a cleansing technique. For proper instruction on how to practice this breath, click here.

Breath of Fire
If you've ever practiced Kundalini Yoga, then you're familiar with Breath of Fire. It is believed that this practice awakens your spirit and helps you to uncover your true potential. Click here to learn this technique from Kundalini yogini Gurmukh.

This is one of my favorite techniques because of its balancing effects. Otherwise known as "the ocean sounding breath" or "the sweet breath," this type of breathing helps the yogi maintain a connection to the breath throughout his/her yoga practice. Here's a lovely video that captures the essence of Ujjayi breath:

Now that you have a breath primer, go forth and breathe! For more on the wonderful topic of breathing, check out these books:

There are too many books about this subject to list here. These are only my favorites. Know why there are so many books on pranayama? Because it's a transformative practice, one that's often neglected for asana. Next time you finish your asana practice, take 10-15 minutes for a pranayama practice. It'll work on a subtle level, but the results are quite powerful.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.


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