Pranayama and Breath
If you’ve ever attended a yoga class and heard this word pranayama, you know it has to do with working with subtle energies and breath. In some schools it is considered an advance practice while others, such as the one I trained with, introduce pranayama techniques from the beginning.
Lately I have gone back to starting my morning with several rounds of a pranayama called alternate-nostril breathing. I say “go back to” because during the intense month of attending almost daily yoga classes (see 30 Days of Yoga entries), I noticed that few teachers integrated pranayama into yoga sessions. Usually we would get right into physical warm-ups or sun salutes.
Having trained teachers in how to lead a class in pranayama, I know that they often just don’t know how to and have great concerns about guiding a yoga class correctly. It can be tricky because the count is most important and you have to learn to watch how students are responding to instructions.
Pranayama can be a very powerful way to move energy and because we are working with our breathing mechanism and learning how to actually regulate the breath, it can be frightening for students.
But prana does not just mean breath. Prana refers to the subtle energy that may be moved by breath – also a much more complex concept for beginner students and teachers.
Words often fail us when we try to comprehend terms that do not correspond to the physical body. I’d be interested to know other ways the concept of prana has been explained or how students perceive it or have felt it on an energy level.
I’m happy to see you mention that many teachers don’t lead a pranayama class, because they don’t know how (and good for them for not trying). As you said, prana is more than breath and one must be sincere in their approach. There are many good instructors who practice and teach it, I hope more people explore this wonderful practice!