The word Prāṇāyāma is made up of two Sanskrit words. Prāna means breath, respiration, energy, life force, vitality and strength. Ayāma means to stretch, control, restrain, extend, expand or regulate. Both words have many meanings but these are the most relevant.
Pranayama is the practice of controlling the breath. It lies at the heart of Patanjali’s yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras where pranayama is the fourth limb of ashtanga yoga. It consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognising the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
Pranayama is conscious breathing not deep breathing. It requires a subtle approach based on self-observation.
When am I ready to start Pranayama?
The Iyengar tradition takes seriously Patanjali’s counsel that pranayama should be introduced only after a student is firmly grounded in asana. This is because the physical postures develop the concentration, strength and stability needed to work with the breath.
In Light on Pranayama, BKS Iyengar says that the practitioner needs two essential things, a stable spine and a still, but alert, mind. Both of these are built up with a strong asana practice.
Students should also be able to practice deep relaxation in Savasana (Corpse Pose) with a calm and attentive mind without falling asleep. As Mary Dunn, a respected senior teacher from New York, said:
“You have to have a refined place where you can stop and simply be—not in an action or in the imagination, but in recognition of your internal state.”
Pranayama is the channelling of energy within the body. Classically, pranayama is said to be the transition between the outer and the inner world—the vehicle through which we internalise, feel the body, and experience our inner life. It is quieter and more subtle work than asana practice.
Please note that working with the breath should only be done under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Students who have been practising Iyengar yoga regularly for at least two years are welcome to join Pranayama classes at Maida Vale.
When you start to experience the benefits of pranayama, you will also observe a different quality to your asana practice. Regular practice of pranayama can help you to:
- Find ease in difficult asanas
- Access calmer, more meditative states of mind
- Tap into your inner energy.
Watch this space for updates – we will post occasional articles and links which may be helpful to students in their pranayama practice.
Pranayama Drop-in Class – Level I
This class is for General Level students with at least two years of regular Iyengar yoga practice. No previous experience of Pranayama is needed. You will learn preparatory postures and practise basic Pranayama techniques.
Members £11 / Non-members £14
Pranayama Drop-in Class – Level II
This class is for students who have more than four years experience of Iyengar yoga and are familiar with basic Pranayama techniques. You will practise restorative asana, including headstand and shoulder stand. You will also be introduced to more advanced breath control techniques.
Members £11 / Non-members £14
These classes are taught by Johanna Heckmann-Mohan who has been teaching Iyengar yoga since 1984. She began doing Pranayama 35 years ago and has maintained a daily practice ever since. ‘It is like meeting yourself every day at a deeper level on your mat. The body-mind connection brings a profound peace.’ Johanna has studied with the Iyengar family in Pune 18 times including a year in 1986 and a subsequent 6 month trip.
Learning to work with the breath takes patience and care. Please always study with an experienced teacher.