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Rowing a Boat in the Sea

Prāṇāyāma is one of the most deeply powerful but often underused and misunderstood practices of yoga.

Prāṇā Means Life Force

Literally, prā means first, ṇā means smallest or fundamental unit.

It is the energy that animates all things.

It makes all things move and grow.

Everything living functions because of prāṇā.

Prāṇāyāma is typically referred to as the control or regulation of the breath.

It is often assumed that prāṇāyāma is a contraction of the words prāṇā (life force) and yama (control or restraint.)

While many of the practices of prāṇāyāma do involved controlling the breath, the aim is not to control and certainly not to restrain life force, as this reading might suggest.

Consider an alternative translation of the word prāṇāyāma where prāṇā (life force) is contracted with āyāma (expansion or extension.)

By this reading, the practice of prāṇāyāma is about life force is being extended or expanded, constantly moving and growing versus being controlled or blocked in.

It’s helpful to remember that prāṇā itself cannot be manipulated, controlled, or regulated directly.

We can only work with prāṇā via a third party, so to speak.

Prāṇā is influenced by what, how, and when we eat,

Our sleep quality and quantity,

Where we live,

The kind of work we do,

The amount of stress in our life,

Our relationships,

The way we move our body,

And especially by our breath.

In fact, yoga suggests to us that breath is our most immediately available access point to our life force.

How Prāṇāyāma Is Like Rowing a Boat

I love this metaphor: if you were rowing a boat in the sea, you would not be moving and controlling the whole ocean beneath you.

Instead, your paddles help you navigate the currents upon which your boat is floating.

This is what we do when we practice prāṇāyāma.

There are several techniques, all of which are intentionally creating a pattern of breathing in which you are aiming for a clear pathway for prāṇā.

3 Prāṇāyāma Practices You Need to Know

1. Diaphragmatic Breath

Diaphragmatic Breath is not classically defined as a prāṇāyāma technique but it is the most frequent way we relate to the breath on our yoga mats and is a marker for general health and well-being.

Diaphragmatic breath is the most physiologically efficient way of breathing, marked by wave-like movement where the body is soft and receptive and breath moves freely.

It's super simple. But definitely not boring.

When you settle into diaphragmatic breath, there is a sense that you are being breathed versus doing the work of breathing.

This is because the breath originates with the movement of the diaphragm as if breath rises from within and moves outward towards the periphery, as opposed to the breath being drawn in from the upper chest.

It's a deeply calming way of feeling life force moving in and through you.

2. Saṃa Vṛtti

Otherwise known as equally fluctuated, equally balanced breath, or whole breath, saṃa vṛtti is a practice where inhalation and exhalation happen for an equal amount of time.

This practice is typically marked by an equal count, such as five counts for the inhalation and five counts for the exhalation.

Practicing saṃa vṛtti can offer a feeling of control and steadiness for the mind.

Plus it's a great way to start an asāna practice because it sets the pace for your movement starting with the breath.

3. Nāḍī Shodhana

Often synonymous with prāṇāyāma, and perhaps the most widely know technique, nāḍī shodhana literally means river or channel purification.

As the name suggestions, this practice in used to clear the subtle mind-body channels for a more clear flow of energy.

Nāḍī shodhana is often recommended as a tool for managing stress and anxiety. It's been proven to lower blood pressure

The Techniques Are Not the Goal

Just like perfecting shapes in our asāna practice is not the goal, prāṇāyāma techniques themselves are not the goal.

These practices are simply one of the tools yoga offers us to manage our mind, emotions, and body, in order to alleviate suffering in any of its forms.


If you are looking for more support in your yoga practicing, prāṇāyāma, asāna, meditation, and philosophy join the Tara Lemerise Yoga community!

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