PRANAYAMA IN THREE EASY STEPS
This is my experience from learning Yoga breathing and pranayama using
the book "Yoga -- en praktisk vaegledning" (Yoga -- a practical guide)
by Swami Nirvikalpananda Saraswati for instruction. This article is
meant to help you teach yourself the technique. It is not meant to be
authoritative with regards to definitions or Yoga theory.
Pranayama is a breathing practice in Yoga. It is particularly useful
in situations where you feel threatened, because it helps you retain
your calm. Pranayama is often recommended to the beginning
occultist. Among authors who recommend it are Robert Anton Wilson and
Wear loose-fitting clothes or no clothes at all. Make sure your nose
is clear, so you can breathe freely. If you have a cold, you will have
to wait till you are recovered. Not only is it impossible to do
pranayama when you cannot breathe through your nose but if you have a
sore throat the first deep breath will send you into a violent cough
The purpose of the first step is to learn to distinguish between belly
breathing and chest breathing.
Lie on your back on a comfortable flat surface. Relax and start
following your breath. Put one hand on your belly and the other on
your chest. Relax.
Belly breathing: When you inhale, the hand on your belly rises, while
the hand on your chest remains still. As you exhale, the hand on your
belly goes down again, whereas the hand on your chest remains
still. Repeat this for 5-10 breaths.
Chest breathing: When you inhale, the hand on your chest rises, while
the hand on your belly remains still. As you exhale, the hand on your
chest goes down again, whereas the hand on your belly remains
still. Repeat this for 5-10 breaths.
Alternate between belly and chest breathing for 5-10 minutes. Repeat
every day. It is _vital_ that you master this step before going on to
Purpose of step two is to combine belly and chest breathing in one
breath. This is called Yoga breathing.
Lie on a comfortable flat surface. Relax and follow your breath. Put
one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Relax.
Yoga breathing: Start inhaling with belly breathing. When you feel
that you cannot inhale any more this way, go over to chest breathing
until the chest part of your lungs are full. Then you exhale using
chest breathing first and then belly breathing until you have emptied
your lungs completely.
Breathe very slowly. If you feel dizzy, you are breathing too fast. If
you feel out of breath, you are breathing too slowly. Follow your
If you have problems distinguishing between belly and chest breathing,
go back to step one again.
Sit or stand with your spine upright.
Use Yoga breathing and follow a set pattern. To do this you need to
somehow count the rythm. I use ordinary counting, but I imagine that
you might aswell use words instead. The rythm 4-2-2 works very well
for me. That means I count to 4 while inhaling, hold my breath while
counting 1 and 2, and exhale on 3 and 4. I have also seen a 4-4-4-4
rythm recommended and now find it more efficient. It means adding an
extra element, namely holding your breath between exhalation and
inhalation. Be careful not to hold your breath for too long. Again,
listen to your body's needs.
Yoga breathing should be a more or less effortless process, so your
breath should not be louder than usual. I had problems with starting
the exhalation inaudibly. If you experience this too, there is a trick
to it: you inhale just a wee bit before exhaling. You are supposed to
be able to use pranayama in virtually any situation, so to practise
making it an "invisible" process is definitely worthwhile. That way
you can use it, for instance when you walk up to the platform before
making a speech or when listening to someone in an argument.
I also had problems with my diaphragm going rigid. When this happens I
can make it relax through softly patting on the diaphragm. The
stimulation seems to confuse the muscles on the inside into
relaxing. It did not happen any more when I got more used to the
It is a good idea to practise step one for a week, then combine step
one and step two for one week, and then try all three steps in your
daily session during the third week. This way you repeat the first
basic steps every time. I followed this advice and feel that I have
learnt the basics quite well. I still feel the need to practise
distinguishing between belly and chest breathing from time to
time. Pranayama works better if you practise it regularly. Do not do
it all the time, but a few times a day will not hurt, quite on the
contrary. My Yoga book recommends doing pranayama before meditation,
but after asanas.