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Breathing, Prana & Circulation

I'm currently working on a Cardiovascular Support & Circulation Boosting Seminar, and came across a post I had put out to my students in November, 2017. Maybe something in this will be helpful to you.

There are so many reasons that breathing is such a large part of yoga. But a class a few days ago stimulated my thinking… Maybe a quick explanation of breathing, prana & circulation is good information to share. Although there are so many reasons why breathing is key to “doing yoga”, for the purposes of this blog I want to address the benefits to circulation and pranic energy for the body.

Breathing exercises in yoga are called “Pranayama”, which loosely translates to “breath expansion”. These very specific techniques of breath regulation are key to having the full yogic experience in your practice. As yoga practitioners we attempt to co-ordinate the movement to the breath while flowing in and out & between postures, and while in a posture it can be used to focus the mind, the prana and channel energy is very specific ways. I’ve frequently said that where your attention goes, your intention will follow. What is loosely meant by this is that when we pay attention to something our brain and body respond by paying attention to it as well. The body’s regulatory systems kick into gear and amazing things can happen when this is practiced over and over again.

There are certain functions that are considered “autonomic”, which means that your body handles them without you really being aware of them. An example is your heart. It will continue to pump without much input from you, other than responding to the daily rigours of life that you throw at it, i.e. exercising, or meditation, which can tone the heart, improve its ability to function and likewise, sitting around being stagnant for long periods of time which will over time have the opposite effect.

Another example is your respiratory system. Although this system works relatively independent from your awareness most of the time, if you pay attention to your breath (a key practice in yoga), your body responds. We can help to regulate our respiratory system, through mindfulness, yogic breathing practices, meditation, regular exercise and yoga. As we pay attention to our breathing, the brain responds accordingly by either increasing, or decreasing respiratory rate, oxygen intake, carbon dioxide output, speeding or slowing the heart rate, etc. On a more subtle side of pranayama, we step into the realm of “pranic movement”. Prana or life force/flow is the element that we can’t necessarily see that is deeply affected by our breathing. We can direct prana or life force elements throughout our body as we breath. Where you attention goes, your prana will follow.

While everyone can benefit overall for those that suffer from cold hands and feet or general coldness, can definitely benefit from learning to focus their prana. There are a few breathing techniques that can be used to increase circulation to the entire body. Ujjayi breathing (victorious breath) is generally used in many styles of class. Gently allow a subtle constriction in the throat, allow your inhale and exhale to pass through your nose and constricted throat – it should make soft sound like the ocean. (If it sounds like Darth Vader – maybe try a little less…ha-ha)

As you are practicing yoga, ujjayi can be practiced with mindful intention. See if, as you inhale your mind can follow the breath out towards your arms and legs. If you have time, you can focus on one small area at a time; say 1 finger at a time and notice if while you follow your breath, prana and warmth find their way to that area. If so, move to the next area. Please be patient.

If you are in a flow style of practice, simply inhale and exhale with long drawn out breaths while using ujjayi. See if you can co-ordinate your movements to your breath. If you are practicing restorative, yin or other similar slow or retained posture styles of practice, allow your mind to direct the breath with as much ease and mindful intention as you can.

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