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  • Writer's pictureGordon Kanzer

We Can All Breathe!

Updated: Jan 4

In many yoga classes, emphasis is often placed on the performance of the asanas, often at the expense of pranayama, the yogic breathing techniques. Pranayama is the fourth of Pantanjali's eight limbs of Yoga. As his teaching professes, the mastery of pranayama is necessary to enter into pratyahara, the fifth limb and the first stage of introversion. Many yogic traditions assert that one must master the asanas before learning the breath control techniques of pranayama. In the Kripalu tradition, the asanas, pranayama and meditation are integrated in the attempt to master all three simultaneously. The expression of the asanas is particular to the individual. We all exhibit differences in both inherited and acquired flexibility and strength. But with regard to pranayama, except for people afflicted with lung, muscular or neurologic diseases, we all have a similar capacity to breathe. We can all learn and enjoy yogic breathing techniques. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that divides chest from abdomen. With inhalation it moves downward into the abdomen. Limitations to maximizing breath control arise more so from incorrect posture than the ability to breathe. Rounding of the back “crunches” and crowds the abdomen, as the intestines and abdominal organs are pushed together. With less room in the abdomen, downward movement of the diaphragm is limited, resulting in a decrease in lung capacity. Elongation of the spine and relaxing the shoulders down the back create more space in the abdomen and allow for greater diaphragmatic movement downward for a more optimal breath. Elongation of the spine is best accomplished by sitting on the edge of a cushion in order to bring the hips above the level of the knees. Without a cushion, the knees more often are above the hips with a tendency to round the back. A chair is also a wonderful way to elongate the spine. Once the elongation of the spine is achieved, the ability to perform pranayama transcends age and physical limitations. Pranayama promotes meditative states that create clarity and insight. We can all breathe! Pranayama is accessible to all!

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