In ancient yoga texts, prana is the life-force or energy manifested through the breath. Pranayama is the practice of controlling this life-force by directing the breath. Each breathing exercise aims to achieve particular results, and different branches of yoga use different pranayama. Some pranayama are energizing, some are warming, others are cooling or calming. Performing these pranayama within a yoga class may help you get deeper into poses or give you the energy to keep going when you begin to feel tired.
You can try them off the yoga mat, too, when you need to warm up or cool down or if you're seeking a new wave of energy. Take a few minutes from your stressful day to re-energize by doing some deep breathing. Sample two of the more accessible pranayama techniques at home and see if you notice a positive change in your life-force.
Many yoga teachers will use metaphors as they strive to help students understand asanas (poses) or pranayama. Ujjayi (oo-j-eye-ee) pranayama is sometimes described as sounding like waves in the ocean or like a snake's hiss. Other teachers opt for a more pop-cultural metaphor: when you do Ujjayi, your breathing should sound a bit like Darth Vader's breathing. Imagine whichever metaphor brings you the clearest vision or understanding of the technique. And remember that it's alright to giggle in yoga class.
Picture a regal lion lounging on the savanna, opening his mouth wide in a grand roar, tongue bared and stretched, mane shaking. This is the essence of Simhasana (sim-HAHS-ana) pranayama, also known as Lion's Breath. It's a slightly silly-looking practice, this Simhasana, a bit humbling the first couple of times you do it. Kids love Lion's Breath precisely because it's bit silly. Stretching, toning, and relaxing the muscles of your face, cooling the breath, Simhasana is fierce and fun.
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