Hot 26 Pose Breakdown: Pranayama Breathing

Pose: Standing Deep Breathing
Sanskrit: Pranayama

Breathing is the foundation of any yoga class, and in the Hot 26 sessions I’ve taken as a student I’ve almost always heard the first breathing exercise referred to as Pranayama (Breathing) – as opposed to the English name.

The term, according to this site, comes from several Sanskrit roots:
prana is “vital life force,” 
yama is “control” and 
ayama is “extension” or “expansion.”

After doing only vinyasa (flow) yoga for years, I walked into my first Hot 26 class not knowing about the structure. For starters, at the local studio, we’re facing mirrors as opposed to the instructor. This forces one to look inward as opposed to watching to see what other students are doing (although I do recall glancing at others in those first couple classes). Secondly, I remember starting Pranayama Breathing and thinking, ‘well, this is different‘. And then realizing quickly, as we’re repeating this exercise and seeing the reflection of everyone in the mirror doing this together, thought, ‘I guess I’ve joined a cult?’

But I kept at it and got used to this breathing exercise, which follows Mountain.

Pose Breakdown

Bring your legs together. Scoop your belly in and up. Fold your hands under your chin. Elbow tips touch (or as close as possible). Your gaze is forward.

The start of Pranayama Breathing – Photo by David Greedy

Take a slow, deep inhale through your nose and swing your elbow tips up, counting down from 6.

Pranayama Breathing, start of inhale – Photo by David Greedy

As someone who has had pulmonary issues in the past, the inhale for me is the hardest part of this exercise. My inhales felt very brief for the longest time until I learned the key is to get into the inhale from your throat.

Pranayama Breathing, inhaling – Photo by David Greedy

Exhale with an open-mouth sigh as you drop your head back and bring the elbow tips back together in front of and off your chest.

Pranayama Breathing, exhaling – Photo by David Greedy

Come back to neutral gaze like you started and repeat 9 more times.

Pose Benefits

After learning the benefits of the pose, I thought it should be a staple start of every workplace and school environment. Here’s a list of things that resonated with me as to why this exercise is good for you:

  • Improved lung capacity (I can attest to this; we all want to be able to breathe with ease)
  • Promotes mental relaxation
  • Helps with high blood pressure (slow deep breathing turns on the parasympathetic nervous system – a network of nerves that relaxes your body – and helps reduce overall blood pressure)
  • Decreases anxiety and irritability

If you’ve never done this exercise before, here’s a quick tutorial on Pranayama Breathing that provides a great breakdown.

Return next Monday for the following pose in the Hot 26 sequence: Half Moon series.

Note: While I’ve been doing Hot 26 for several years, like any yoga practice the poses are always a work in progress. The photos of me in this series will display what I was best able to do at that moment in time. Some poses feel “perfect” in my body but aren’t quite the fullest extension of them in a photo, and vice versa. With that in mind, consider the text just as much – if not more – as the image.

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