By Shahid Mishra
How should we go about teaching pranayama to Yoga students? When teaching yoga classes there are times when you are the translator of ancient practices. It is always important to do your research, confirm it, use it, apply it and then teach your students about your findings and some of the history of the yogic technique you are teaching. Most students expect you to know everything, but one, two or three yoga teacher certification courses are not the end all of yogic knowledge. The pure truth is a yoga instructor or a student’s path never ends, when considering the pursuit of yogic knowledge.
Pranayama is commonly known as the breathing portion of yoga. Most yoga practices incorporate some type of pranayama, either while performing postures, while meditating or both. In its simplest form pranayma is breathing, however it goes a bit deeper than that. The word “Prana,” means “life force,” and “yama” means “discipline.” Together, then, the word loosely means controlling the life force within yourself. It is intended to not only expand the breath but also to reach a deeper place of spiritual enlightenment. How do we begin teaching pranayama to Yoga students?
Stages of Pranayama
This subject isn’t often mentioned in many yoga teacher trainings and it is not to be confused with the four stages of breathing There are four stages of pranayama: Arambha, Ghata, Parichay and Nispatti. The first stage, Arambha, is the most basic understanding of pranayama where one realizes that deeper breathing can result in numerous benefits. The second stage, Ghata, is where the three Sarira, or Buddhist relics, unite. The third stage, Parichay, involves a deeper and fuller knowing of pranayama. The final stage of pranayama, Nispatti, allows one to go outside of their physical body to become enlightened.
Stages of Breathing
There are also four stages of breathing which are integral to practicing pranayama. The first stage is the inhalation, or Puraka. Ideally, the inhalation should be a continuous and smooth drawing in of breath. The second stage of the breath is a pause after the initial inhale, or Abhyantara Kumbhaka. The idea is to hold the air in the lungs for a moment without any movement at all. The next stage of breathing is the exhale, or Rechaka. The exhale should be as smooth and continuous as the inhale. A perfect exhale will not use the muscles to force the air out but rather let the air out smoothly by being totally relaxed. The final stage of breathing is another pause, or Bahya Kumbhaka. This final pause before the next inhale marks the end of one breath and the start of the next.
Benefits of Pranayama
Whether you have a deep understanding of pranayma or a more basic idea, pranayama can still provide amazing benefits. Deep breathing releases the toxins from our blood and body by improving circulation. It can help with digestion and prevent disease. Breathing exercises help develop focus and concentration while providing a healthy way to relieve stress and anxiety. It is a wonderful tool to have to employ when life gets overwhelming or in situations of conflict. Pranayama gives people a healthy way to cope with all of life’s challenges and provides a deeper understanding of one’s self.
Side Notes for Yoga Teachers
Proper breathing applied to real life is the true test. Teaching pranayama to Yoga students that constantly focuses on proper breathing is useful, but it means little if our students do not apply what they learn to life. For instructors, in particular, this is a matter of us teaching our students to walking the talk. No matter how many yoga teacher trainings we participate in, we must apply and live what we learn. With each training, we are supposed to be examples of self-discipline, grace, and kindness. The instructor who cannot hold his or her tongue in a heated moment is an example of one who knows, but does not practice or apply. One can say, “I am only human.” This is true – We are only mere humans, but we gain gifts of Yogic knowledge, which should be practiced in daily life. The bottom line is: Pranayama is a skill for better living and we can put it to the test every day.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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Practicing Pranayama in Chair Yoga
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Pranayama is perfect for many practitioners. It can be easily practiced by those with reduced mobility or by those who are working in an office. The use of a chair allows the practice of pranayama to become extremely accessible to anyone looking for its benefits. Before beginning pranayama in a chair, a prospective student must be sure that they don’t have any health issues that might interfere. Remember that the emphasis should be on what the participants can do. For example: One’s doctor should be consulted before practicing. In the case of high blood pressure or heart problems, prolonged breath retention (kumbhaka) may not be recommended. In fact, dynamic techniques will not be advised, unless the pace is slowed or the technique is modified for the student.
As experienced students know, mindful pranayama is the easiest way to unite the body and the mind. It is the practice of conscious breathing. This is different from regular breathing, which is done without any thought. Becoming conscious of drawing breath helps to clear the mind, focus on the action of breathing, and clarify the spirit. Practicing in a chair has the same benefits as sitting on the mat or standing practice.
Starting Yogic Breathing
Generally practitioners will not need to use any props other than the chair. However, there are exceptions and some students prefer blocks under the feet, blankets on the seat or back rest, and so on. Be sure that each person has fully warmed the lungs up physically. Many times people with lessor mobility may be unused to taking more than shallow breaths. Deep breathing can catch some off guard. Therefore, breath awareness or Ujjayi pranayama make a nice warming introduction.
Try reaching over your head and inhale. Then exhale and fold forward a little. This form of interactive diaphragmatic breathing is one of the best places to start with pranayama. With the chair stable against a wall, lift the arms and interlace the fingers. The palms should be towards the ceiling. Lean backwards, but please do not over extend the body. The practitioners should inhale slowly for three seconds and exhale slowly while bending forward for three seconds. Repeat this five times.
This simple breathing while stretching the body can open up worlds for those who never thought they could practice yoga. It is also simple and discreet enough to be practiced in an office environment unlike many standing or floor poses. Teaching pranayama to Yoga students be mastered with ease in an office environment. Also, advanced and involved pranayama practices can easily be adapted to chair use. In a classroom format, the students and teacher can work together to find a routine that is rewarding and comfortable for everyone involved. The health and fitness rewards will surprise even the most skeptical student.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
1 thought on “Teaching Pranayama to Yoga Students”
Applying my breathing practices to everyday living has been a major challenge for myself too. I literally have to catch myself breathing ‘badly’, then correct myself when I remember to. Things are improving, but I’m far from perfect! Thank you for an article that gives me a starting point.