These notes were shared on Tuesday Jan. 29. I’m a bit late, but I didn’t get a chance to post them before, so here they are! Enjoy 🙂 Comments are always appreciated.
First of all I’d like to thank you all so much for joining us tonight! Please grab a copy of the intro notes from the candle on the table, join the group, grab a schedule, or leave a donation. Al donations support the sim and more events like his so if you like what you see and want to see more please leave a donation.
Thank you for visiting Peaceful Dragon Oriental Medicine Centre! And a special thank you out to Xandria who made this whole place possible. If you have a suggestion for an activity or an event here, or wish to host here please contact either Xandria Winterwolf or myself.
I just want to remind everyone that none of the information presented here is advice and therefore should not be put into practice without first consulting a professional.
Pranayama is known in yoga and Ayurveda as “breath practices.” Prana means energy, ayam means to extend or draw out. The other common translation is from yama, meaning to control or restrain. The other translation is prawns + ayaama. Ayaama is defined as stretching, restraining, extending and expansion (of dimensions in time and space). Thus, pranayama can mean to e tend and over one one’s normal limitations.
Qi is known in traditional Chinese medicine as energy, and is also controlled and maintained by breathing.
These practices include ways to increase vitality, relaxation, and balancing of energies. Relaxation includes body, mind, and emotions. Last month we talked about our nadi’s, which are influenced by our breath. Today let’s focus just on breathing.
Please keep in mind that not everyone is on the same level of practice. If something we talk about tonight isn’t comfortable for you, DO NOT DO IT!
Notice your breathing. Don’t change it, just notice it. If you are not a meditator, yogi or tai chi practitioner you may not have noticed how shallowly your breath goes into your body. In most people the air only travels halfway into their lungs. This means that our lungs aren’t even filling up all the way, let alone distributing the necessary oxygen to all the parts of our body.
Pranayama is more than just a way of getting more breath into your body. It deals with the whole area of vitality and the pranayama kosha (an energy body, similar to an aura). Though oxygen us a form of prana, pranayama is interested in more subtle corms of energy. pranayama utilizes the process of breathing as a means to manipulate all forms of energy within the body.The air brings with it subtle energies that are necessary for your body to function. The body requires both oxygen and energy to survive. Hence the term, qi, or “vital life force.” Awareness of the breath is a instant feature of both moving (active, asanas) and tranquil (passive, meditation) practices.
It is important here to understand that efficient and healthy breathing is not the same as deep breathing. The speed with which we breathe is also very important, for if we breathe too fast our oxygen is bound too tightly to the hemoglobin molecules so that less is released to the cells.
First off, let’s do a kind of “check-in” to our breath. Please make sure your clothes aren’t constricting for these practices. You may want to undo your belt, take off your shoes, and undo your pants.
How does the breath feel? Smooth or choppy? Deep or shallow? Clear or turbid? Light or heavy? Quiet or noisy? Easy or difficult?
Where do you breathe? Where does it enter? Where does it go? Can you feel the movement within your nostrils, down the trachea, and in your lungs? Do you breath with your nose or mouth or both? Do you feel the movements in your best, back, and abdomen? Can you feel it in your hands and feet?
What part of your body moves with your inhalations and exhalations? Place your hand on your abdomen or chest if you can’t feel any movements sometimes your hands are able to feel more subtle movements.
What is your rate of breathing? How long does it take for you to inhale? Does your exhale match the inhale? How many breathes do you take per minute?
Now that we’ve checked in we can start some breathing exercises. If at any time during these exercises you feel light headed, dizzy, or uncomfortable in any way please stop doing the exercise and return to your natural breathing.
Qigong breathing exercises
Natural breathing is where on inhalation, abdomen expands out wards, and on exhalation, abdomen contracts inwards. Breathing abdominally creates more room for the lungs to expands than breathing with the chest. Of course, when doing physical activity both the chest and abdomen will expand and contract.
In qigong, we practice reversed breathing. We do this in order to gain more control over the breathing muscles and to stimulate qi. This practice is not dangerous if practiced for brief periods of time, but it should not become normal. To practice reversed breathing the abdomen contracts during inhalation, while the chest expands slightly. During exhalation the abdomen expands slightly and the chest contracts. The breath should be deep, soft, and silent. If is is too difficult for you, try only for a few cycles and stop, as this can be dangerous if you can’t get enough oxygen.
Differentiated breathing is common in qigong as the idea is to try practicing as many different ways of breathing as you can imagine. Deep and shallow, high and low, fast and slow. Some practitioners try breathing just into their throats, through their skin, or down into their hands and feet. Any practice such as these should only be practiced for short periods of time until you are more comfortable with me and can then lengthen your practice.
Dan tians breathing is intended to strengthen and cultivate Dan tian qi, health, and inner peace. The Dan tian is the energy centre in the abdominal region, about three inches below the navel and midway to the centre of the body. The exact location varies from person to person, so with your practice you will become more aware of where it is. Usually, the Dan tian will be the region or point where your abdomen expands from. Both the abdomen and lower back will expand with inhalation, and both will contract with exhalation. If you we’re to place your hands on the front and back of an individual it should feel as though a balloon is expanding inside and expanding both sides away from each other with inhalation. This type of breathing will relax the mind and body, decrease unhealthy reactions to stress, lessen anxiety, and massage internal organs. It will also increase the flow of energy, causing the whole body to be more functional.
The last type of qigong breathing we will talk about today is called embryonic breathing. This is considered the most advanced stage of qigong breath. In this practice the breathing will become so slight that it seem to have stopped. An alchemist from the fourth century A.D. Says that the sage can hold a feather in front of the nostrils and it does not move. In some qigong texts it will say to hold the breath for 20 minutes or two hours…of course no one can do that, so what they are referring to is this embryonic breath.
Ayurveda/yoga breathing exercises
All practices of pranayama breathing include four basic techniques.
1. Pooraka (inhalation)
2. Rechaka (exhalation)
3. Antarctic or antaranga kumbhaka (retention of breathe after inhalation, i.e. with full lungs
4. Bahir or bahiranga kumbhaka (retention of breath after exhalation, i.e. with lungs emptied)
Pranayama also has an advanced state of breathing called Kerala kumbhaka, where the pressure in the lungs becomes the same as the pressure in the atmosphere, and respiration ceases.
During yoga practice there is a type of breathing called ujjayi breath, where you make noise in the back of your throat. My yoga teacher likes to call it, baby Darth Vader breath. Basically, it sounds like you’re trying to fog up a mirror, but your mouth is closed. To accomplish this you must open the back of your throat, near the top where your sinuses and nostrils meet your throat opening. This takes much practice, but the idea is to do ujai breath throughout the whole yoga practice.
Another common breathing practice is called Kapalabhati pranayam. It’s type of breathing consists of alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Exhales are generated by powerful contractions of the lower belly (between the pubis and navel), which push air out of the lungs. Inhales are responses to the release of this contraction, which sucks air back into the lungs. This can be quite exhilarating, but if you are new to it it can make you quite dizzy.
Nadi shodhana pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing, is where you take you left hand and fold it into a fist. Then extend your pinky and ring finger, as well as your thumb, and hold one nostril closed while taking a full inhale and exhale out of the opposite nostril before switching. You always want to start breathing through the left nostril, slowing the right.
Sitali pranayama, or cooling breath, is where you curl your tongue and stick it out of your lips as though using it as a straw and breath through that. You want to I hale through the tongue/mouth and exhale through the nose.
The last type of yogic breathing we’ll talk about today is most commonly called lions breath. Take a deep inhale, open your mouth wide, stuck out your tongue and roar like a lion on your exhale. It is loud, yes, but it will a,ways make you feel better and will release any and all stress you may have bottled up.
Let us reflect on the importance of naturalness and spontaneity when breathing. The exercises described above are learned in order to unlearn bad habits and release your body into the naturalness and freedom that should be breathing. These are not to be practised for long periods of time and should not be practiced too often.
I want to thank you all for coming tonight! This is the end of the formal discussion. I now open the floor to any and all comments and questions, whether related or not. Take good care all, on shanti, sat nam, namaste.