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Pranamaya Kosha: The Energy Body

Encased within Annamaya Kosha (the physical body), is Pranamaya Kosha, which refers to the energy body. Prana, translated as breath or energy, comprises all physical, spiritual, mental, intellectual, sexual, cosmic, & potential energy. Essentially, at our most basic of definitions, we are all matter vibrating at different frequencies. By developing a breath practice, also known as pranayama practice, we begin to deepen our understanding of the intrinsic connection between our mind & our body. In our pranayama practice, we primarily explore imbalances in our energetic body, as experienced through shame, greed, jealousy, hatred, anger, obsession, lust, or an excess of pride. 

The breath has often been referred to as a “hinge” between our external & internal worlds. By optimizing our respiratory system, we begin to generate awareness & elasticity in our nervous system. A consistent pranayama practice will yield fruits that allow us to better harness the fluidity of the breath to understand our own sometimes turbulent emotions & with that begin to turn our awareness inwards. 

 

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Breath training

pranamaya

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

If you are alive right now, you are breathing. We all breathe every minute of every day. But, how many of us take the time to practice it? To optimize the way we breathe is to pay respect & gratitude for the gift of the breath. For the gift of life, really. The benefits of a dedicated breath practice are many. It can help us reduce stress, anxiety, & depression, lower our heart rate & blood pressure, improve our immunity, stimulate our lymphatic system which helps detoxify our body, increase our energy, & many other health benefits. Through our deep, controlled breathing, we channel our body’s parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the “rest & digest” response. In developing a dedicated breath practice, we train our bodies to consciously target their parasympathetic nervous system, thereby reducing chronic stress & the associated symptoms & health challenges that often come with it. By breathing deep into our bellies & using the diaphragm to pull the breath into every nook & cranny of our lungs, we optimize oxygen exchange & help support our minds, bodies, & overall health. 

Pranayama is the pulsed breath of our very existence. As we move through the physical postures of our asana practice, our goal is to balance the associated energies by sending our breath, “breathing into”, those locations. By developing an understanding of the breath, we ask the question of “how” we are feeling at each of those locations & work through any emotional imbalances as they present themselves in our energetic body. Our intention in this practice is to feel the breath expand into every corner of the body & become aware of the emotions that reside there.

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Mula Bandha (Root Lock)

The earth element is associated with the Muladhara, or root, chakra. Mula bandha (moo-lah bahn-dah), or root energy, allows us to feel grounded & connected to the earth. Engaging mula bandha through the contraction of our our pelvic floor muscles prevents the downward escape of energy (by restricting the downward movement of those muscles), while we breathe.

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uddiyana Bandha (upward lifting Lock)

The air element is associated with the Anahata, or heart, chakra. Uddiyana (ooo-dee-yah-nah) bandha, or flying energy, allows us to feel an upward lift & is said to energize the heart chakra, promoting feelings of compassion while relieving stress & anxiety. 

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Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock)

The space element is associated with the Vishuddha, or throat, chakra. In Jalandhara bandha, we contract the throat while taking our chin to our chest, in the notch just between the collarbones. Simultaneously, we raise our chest to our chin with equal & opposite force. In this action, we compress the visceral compartment of the neck which contains important components of the endocrine, respiratory, & digestive systems. The endocrine system is made up of glands that secrete hormonal chemical messengers that regulate everything from the way we sleep to our response to fear.  As with any asana or bandha practice, we work the physical areas of the body to initiate a deeper response level. With this logic, it follows suit that by engaging jalandhara bandha we compress various components of the endocrine, respiratory, & digestive systems, thereby helping to regulate the chemical messengers produced. While formal research in this study is limited, jalandhara bandha  has been linked to reducing stress, anxiety, anger, & mood swings.

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Maha Bandha (Triple Lock)

Maha bandha, also called the “supreme bandha”, is practiced by practicing Mula, Uddiyana, & Jalandhara banhas simultaneously. Begin by engaging Jalandhara bandha, then Uddiyana, & then Mula bandha. Release in reverse order, with Mula bandha released first, then Uddiyana, then Jalandhara released last. As this bandha contains all three energetic locks, it also harnesses the multiple health & energetic benefits of mula, uddiyana, & jalandhara bandha.

Breathe with me

Make sure to connect with Learning to Fly with Tangled Wings on Spotify. As part of the training for our paced-breath practice, I will often reference custom-created playlists that are organized by beats-per-minute as it relates to the rajastic or tamastic nature of a given practice. Within the practice, safety remains our top priority. If at any time you feel faint, dizzy, or lightheaded, please stop immediately & return to your normal breathing.

Finding Fluidity in the Breath

Diaphragmatic breathing

The respiratory diaphragm has a shape very similar to a dome. Posteriorly, it attaches onto the spine. It circles around the bottom of the rib cage until it reaches the xiphoid process at the bottom of the sternum. The muscle fibers run up & down & connect to the central tendon at the to of the dome. As we breathe, the diaphragm contracts & those fibers shorten & move towards each other. As the diaphragm contracts, its surface moves down & pulls on the connective tissue that surrounds the lungs. This creates negative pressure in the chest cavity & the lungs fill. Movement of the diaphragm creates a downward pressure on abdomen & internal organs. During deep belly breathing, where we draw air deep into the belly & then fill the chest we may feel a slight pressure on the pelvic floor at the height of inhalation.

As we integrate breath into our established asana practice, we are able to witness the interplay of breath & body as they relate to bandha. A bandha is a energetic lock executed in our yoga practice to direct the flow of energy. Here, we utilize the vessel of our body to influence the energy & direction of the energy within our bodies. As our practice develops, we find fluidity through the breath as our inhales naturally pause at the height of inhalation & our exhales naturally pause as we empty our bodies of the breath. The process becomes seamlessly cyclical as we dance along the congruency of mind & body.

Once we understand the asana, or physical body position that allows a meditative mind, of practice, we begin to explore how we may also incorporate pranayama, or breathwork, into our practice. Moving Prana, or vital energy, through our bodies via breathing techniques is what is known as pranayama. Here, we layer in our pranayama practice & discuss the bandhas & breath training exercises as they relate to various asanas.