The fourth limb of yoga, and such an important one, is Pranayama. This is the study of gathering, storing and utilising wisely the life-force or life-giving energy. It is often, incorrectly, defined as breathing exercises. Prana IS gathered from the air that we breathe, but we also gather prana from the good natural organic fruit and vegetables that we eat, from the pure filtered water that we drink, from the sun and from the earth.
Pranayama techniques strengthen the respiratory and cardiac systems, improve oxygen uptake and the circulation.There are, in fact, over a hundred and twenty different Pranayama techniques, but my three mainstays are brahmari, the bee-breath, kapalabhati, and ujjayi, the victorious breath. The bee-breath, where we hum the out-breath away, is so helpful for concentration. It is great to do it before meditation. It also clears the throat and the throat chakra, and the ears and sinuses. Kapalabhati is both a Pranayama technique and a Shat Karma. (It is one of the six acts of purification.) Here we pull in the abdomen sharply, to push the out-breath form the nostrils briskly. Then we relax the abdomen and the in-breath takes place quite naturally. (The out-breath is active, the in-breath is passive.) This technique clears the breathing apparatus, clears the mind and tones the abdomen. It is the skull-shining breath. Ujjayi breathing is where we half close the throat and hear the breath in the throat, rather than in the nostrils. Some say it sounds like a baby snoring, others say that it sounds like the sea coming into a shingle shore. It aids concentration, and helps us to become victorious over our struggles and our distractions.
Pranayama is an integral part of yoga practice, keeping us healthy on all levels, and fuelling our chakras or wheels of energy.