Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Does pranayama — yogic breathwork — make you wanna pack up your bags and run out of the room, cringing, all twitchy from those weird hippies breathing through their noses?

It used to do that to me.

Breathwork always left me so impatient. There I'd be, rarin' to go, ready to get my asana on, and then some dumb yoga teacher would make me just sit still and breathe. Dammit, I wanted to stretch already, and sweat! What was up with this bizarro loud breathing stuff that sounded vaguely like Darth Vader and made me feel all self-conscious and awkward and shy?

Well, needless to say, I've learned: there's a whole helluva lot up with it, a lot of good stuff, that is. And while it's still hard for me sometimes even now to sit still and watch my breath rise and fall, or to pump my diaphragm like a bellows in Kapalbhati breath instead of just jumping right into a few fiery Sun Salutations, I know now how important pranayama is, how central the breathwork is to a grounded, life-giving yoga practice, and even just to cultivating a still mind.

If you, too, struggle with breathwork, or are even just a little confused or intrigued by it, check out this fantastic pranayama primer from Yoga Journal. The article walks you through the basics of pranayama theory, and then outlines six different traditions' practices.

Claudia Cummins writes:
The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they're hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga--like asana--and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.
Read on for so much more. Your asana practice will shift when you go from simply trying to "get through" the breathwork and learn to actually enjoy it, and maybe even to bring it into your life off the mat. If I had a dollar for every time I found myself turning to Ujjayi breathing while pouring beers at the tap on a crazy Friday night behind the bar over the years....well, I'd be a rich lady.

Inhale. Exhale. There's something to it. For sure.

Prescriptions for Pranayama (YJ)


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