Pranayama is about training your breath awareness and expanding your breathing patterns. Most people go though the day and night breathing without giving any thought to their breathing, sometimes fast, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, but usually without conscious thought. Pranayama allows the student to become aware of their breath. After becoming aware, a person can then start to expand and train their breath.
Most people don’t use the full potential of their respiratory system and instead go though their day taking small, shallow, unconscious breaths. After years of breathing a certain way, the body gets used to those same patterns and the muscles and myofascial bands grow accustomed to these patterns. A large part of Pranayama and breath training is to expand the myofascial bands and muscles surrounding the respiratory system and to condition them to new patterns of breathing. Pranayama goes hand and hand with yoga asanas because yoga asanas help expand the body and get it ready for new patterns including expanding the breath.
Pranayama practices are designed to create balance and even breathing. Most people have different holding and movement patterns on each side of their bodies. Sometimes these patterns are formed due to being right handed or left-handed and the amount of work they do daily with the dominant side of their body. Stress and emotional energies are often held more on one side of the body. The different holding and movement patterns can create uneven breathing making one side of the lung breath shallower than the other or maybe causes one side to have more resistance creating more resistance in each breath. Once the student becomes aware of these differences and imbalances that arise in their practice, they can start to work through them and past them.
Breathing patterns can be very complex. Each person can have many different ones. When people become angry they will have different breathing patterns than when they are happy or sad. Each emotional state has different breathing patterns. The same is true of different physical states; tired, stressed, headaches, backaches, etc. all have different breathing patterns. The more control we have over our breathing patterns, the more control we can have over other states of mind we experience and have.
Many people say that Pranayama should not be practiced without an experienced guide due to dangerous pitfalls and bad patterns that can arise from doing some of the Pranayama practices wrong. Some of the Pranayama practices can be very psychically demanding on the respiratory system and when the respiratory system gets stressed, it can lead to very serious illnesses. Learning Pranayama is largely about being aware to very subtle hints that arise in your practice. The student must learn to recognize the subtle hints that will tell them that they have reached the capacity of their respiratory endurance before it becomes stressed. Further, if it does become stressed, they need to know the signs of how long it needs to be rested before more Pranayama practice can be undertaken. Endurance can vary vastly from person to person, but most people do have a tendency to push their limits, which can be dangerous with Pranayama practice.
New students should approach Pranayama with great care and always keep awareness open for signs of stress and poor uneven patterns. Pranayama should always be smooth and effortless. If there is a struggle and unevenness, you are pushing the body too far.
Pranayama can be one of the most challenging and rewarding practices a person can study. Pranayama can give the student the power to change their life patterns and ultimately their health.