Pranayama for Beginners Part 1: What is it?

There you are on your mat, laying in savasana, and all the sudden you hear your teacher say "we are going to practice Pranayama today". "Prana-what?", you may think as you start to feel anxious for what is to come. 

In case you didn't know, I love teaching beginner Yogi's. I love seeing them discover the same love I found in my practice years ago. However, I am also aware that there are some very unfamiliar words and prompts that can get used in classes - and sometimes the unfamiliar feels scary. Through this blog and my Yoga program here in Winnipeg - Your Best Yoga - I do my very best to take the "scary" out of Yoga. So, today I am starting a three part series on Pranayama, in the hopes that you will have more understanding of what it is, what it does, and how it can be used, so you don't get any surprises in your next Yoga class. Let's start at the beginning....what is it?

The word Pranayama is composed of the sanskrit word "prana" - meaning "life force", which is often considered our breath - and "ayama", meaning "extension" (or "yama", meaning "control"). So, Pranayama is the practice of controlling or expanding the breath. It is one of the 8 Limbs of Yoga as talked about here. There are many ways of practising Pranayama - different breathing styles/exercises - but when you are just a beginner Yogi, you won't likely come across too many of these specific exercises. As a beginner, it is important to build a foundation for your practice by starting with Asana (the physical practice of poses). Once the body is more aligned and open from the practice, the hope is, prana (that eternal life force) will be able to flow more smoothly through the body. But here's the good part....if you've ever been in a Yoga class with me (beginner or otherwise) you have already begun your Pranayama practice. Remember when we were "watching the breath" at the beginning of the class and maybe even "deepening the breath"? Remember when I was incessantly cueing you to "rise on an Inhale and Fold Forward with an exhale"? You were already working on being conscious about the way you were breathing!

See?! It's not so scary!!! 

So, that is, in a very small nutshell, what Pranayama IS. As always, I encourage you to do your own reading and research on the topic if it is of interest to you. I really aim to provide a little taste of these topics here - and there is A LOT of info out there. Tune in to Part 2 next Monday, to hear about what Pranayama really does for you, your body, mind, spirit and practice. Also, coming up this Wednesday - a special Blog post series that I can't wait to share with you!