Pranayama: Breathing on Purpose


Words by Elle Daniel

There are 8 limbs within Yoga, but much of what we understand it to be today seems to lie predominantly in the physical. However, yoga ‘asana’ (physical practice) comprises just one of those limbs. A lot of students have said to me, things along the lines of, “I stopped practicing yoga because I was injured”, but what they really mean is that they stopped practicing asana.

Whilst I would love to write a whole post on each and every limb (I am a philosophy nerd!), I am going to instead focus on one other than asana, and it’s one you can easily implement into your practice when you can’t necessarily make it onto your mat.

The 4th limb, coming right after Asana, is Pranayama. Put simply, this limb describes breath control. In more detail, ‘prana’ means vital life force, widely understood as something manifested within the breath, and ‘yama’ means to draw out or extend. Creating more breath equals longer life, so we use this limb to bring positive effect to our wellbeing through simple breathing techniques.

There are many methods to explore pranayama, but one that is really simple and almost immediately effective, is what is sometimes referred to as ‘7/11’, and this describes an inhale to a count of 7, then an exhale to a count of 11. It doesn’t have to be these exact counts, students of mine who are new to this practice tend to work a 4 count inhale to 6 count exhale ratio. Whatever length you choose, as long as your exhale is at least 20% longer than the inhale, then you are getting the benefits.

When we inhale, our heart rate increases, and when we exhale it decreases. This particular pranayama exercise is ideal for those moments when you feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety; when you’re heavily into your fight or flight response this will help ease you into rest and digest. Most of us probably spend a disproportionate amount of time in our ‘flight mode’, given the intensity of our modern lifestyle, which for many people involves an excess of work, play, social commitments, social media etc. without much time for conscious rest. Yes, sleep is chance for us to heal and recuperate, but in addition to our 7-8 hours a night, we can also incorporate active rest. Active rest could be a number of things, but for those short on time and money, it can be as simple as 5 minutes of conscious breathing, such as this pranayama exercise.

When we breathe on purpose, aside from all the health benefits it brings on a physical level, we are focusing on our breath, which in turn, takes us out of our analytical mind, allowing us to ultimately find space and clarity.

Try it now. See how you feel!

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Elle has been teaching yoga for 2 years and practicing almost 14. She is passionate about yoga philosophy and encouraging students to go deeper than just asana. Yoga has helped Elle to live life fully and with intention, and she hopes to share that with others. Elle is also a passionate writer, so is delighted to be able to combine her two passions and share them on Balance Garden. Find out more about her over on her website, Instagram @elle_daniel_yoga, or Twitter @elle_yoga

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