Observing and regulating the flow of breath into and out of your body is a subtle process that produces powerful results. This aspect of yoga, known as pranayama, can deepen and enhance your yoga practice in several ways. It improves clarity of mind, mental focus, willpower and even helps with many yoga poses. It is best to have some experience with yoga asanas - poses - before you begin pranayama. The powers of observation and understanding of internal actions and movements that you gain practicing asanas are necessary to be successful with pranayama.
Setting Up For Pranayama
Fold a couple of yoga blankets so that they are long and narrow. A third blanket can serve as a pillow. Sitting on the floor, lie back on the blankets. They should start at your waist and continue up the full length of your body. Adjust your head support so that your face is slightly higher than your chest. Have your arms and legs positioned like in savasana, corpse pose.
Watching the Breath
Spend a few minutes in savasana taking time to completely relax. In particular, your jaw, eyes and temples need to be soft and relaxed for pranayama. Begin to observe your breath. Don’t try to alter it, but notice the sensations and feeling of the breath. Allow it to become more relaxed. You may notice that the breath begins to lengthen as you become more attentive and aware. Five to ten minutes of observation is enough for your first several pranayama sessions.
The Next Steps
After you are comfortable with observing the breath, you may be ready to alter it slightly. Ujjayi breath comes from a slight constriction of the throat that results from tucking your chin. There will be a soft, sibilant sound to the breath - not quite a hiss - from the back of your throat and nose. Don’t force the sound; take time to become comfortable with it. It is fine to have your ujjayi breath just loud enough for you to hear. Use the sound to see if the breath is smooth and even. If it becomes forced or ragged, take a break and breathe normally.
Though there are several variations of ujjayi, these basic steps are a good start. Ultimately, it is best to study pranayama with an experienced yoga teacher. Practice pranayama early or late in the day when you can be quiet. Don’t try pranayama after an active yoga session.
Learning pranayama is a slow process; there is no need to rush. As with the rest of yoga, though there is always more to learn and discover, every small step along the way offers benefits and rewards.