First of all to know our breathing is to perform an asana practice (physical yoga) with full consciousness in our breathing at all times. Observe that there is no movement without breathing. That the inspirations are conscious, that the expirations have a motive and that the retentions of the air have a sense within the form, the position and the moment of the own posture. A very simple example would be to stand in a standing posture, such as tadasana, raise both arms straight at the same time and observe that along with the upward movement of the arms you follow a soft, conscious inspiration and that its duration coincides with the end of the upward movement. When lowering the arms we would follow the same process but using an expiration with the same characteristics.
There are some authors and yoga teachers such as Prashant Iyengar and the Bihar School of Yoga who say that pranayama can not be taught, pranayama occurs. What they can teach are breathing exercises, Sshvasayama (according to the Iyengar tradition) or Prana Nigraha according to traditional satyananda yoga.
In this post I detail several exercises that are very useful and that if performed daily and / or consistently can bring immense benefits to our physical and mental health. Neither let us forget that working with the breath is an entrance to meditation. Maintaining concentration in different foci of breathing can be a magnificent introduction to meditation.
EXERCISES OF CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR OWN RESPIRATORY PROCESS
It is best to start in a lying position and gradually try to sit down. We will observe that when lying down it is much easier to maintain a more calm physical – mental state. The challenge in a lying position will be not to fall asleep and maintain full consciousness. Once we have been practicing both physical yoga and lying down breathing exercises for a few months or years, we can begin to sit down.
I like to start by feeling the area that is between the nose and the abdomen since it is basically this area that is mobilized in inspiration and expiration. Therefore, as we inhale, we feel the nose expand to the navel and we observe that feeling of fullness and when we breathe out we observe how we soften and pacify and the trunk descends.
Then we will pass the respiratory awareness to the whole area of the nostrils and to the contact of the air touching and caressing the nostrils, the hairs of the nose, the inner skin … etc.
We focus on the nostrils and the sensations we observe with the entry and exit of air.
Then we bring the consciousness to the cavity of the sinus. The innermost part that goes towards the mouth.
Observe the smell by asking how the smell is when it is inspired and how it feels when we breathe out.
We go down to the throat area and observe the air flowing through the throat and what is the sensation that causes us in the throat. It may be that this area is tense, there is itching, burning or we may just feel a pleasant sensation.
We observe how the breath passes from the throat to the pharynx, larynx, chest, clavicular area.
We observe little by little how that air penetrates inside the lungs and passes gradually through the respiratory passages that lead to the lungs: bronchi, alveoli … and that air that enters causes a regenerative sensation throughout the body. We observe how that air cleanses us, heals us and takes away all our fears, anxieties and past experiences.
SENSITIZATION OF THE LUNGS AND THE CHEST
Respiratory awareness of the entry of air into the left lung and the right lung and observe that air does not enter more through one lung than through the other. First try to create awareness with the entry of air into the left lung and then the entry of air through the right lung separately. After a while you can start working with both lungs at the same time. Try that the air enters equally in the right lung as in the left.
We will observe the expansion of the lungs in the inspiration and we will try to open the intercostal muscles to gain more and more flexibility in that area. This exercise is ideal for lying in supta padmasana, supta baddakonasana or supta swastikasana.
They are very simple exercises that basically seek to be sensitized with our own respiratory process. Learning to maintain that intimate relationship with breathing and knowing what state our respiratory system is in is a prerequisite to continue advancing in our practice of pranayama.