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supported Pranayama

The exploration and extension of breath

If I had to pick a favorite Chattra prop, the pranayama cushion would be it. Not only is it super versatile as you will see over time through these posts, but it has been created with the intention to support breath awareness and practice. Pranayama translates from Sanskrit as the “extension of the breath,” and breath is understood in the yoga tradition to be directly linked to life force. Amazing that a prop exists that supports our connection to life force!

It would seem a no-brainer to practice breath awareness and exercises especially if they help support and build our vital energy, right?  Yet for many students breath practice is not as exciting as asana (postures) because there is no movement, twisting, stretching or inversions. Focusing on asanas is fine, even great, yet there is a magic to the breath that is definitely worth exploring.

If you are interested in moving into the more subtle realm of the breath, I recommend getting out your pranayama cushion and exploring the following reclined pose. You won’t be disappointed!

Why do it
This gently supported reclining pose opens the chest cavity which supports increased breath capacity. Conscious, even breathing can activate the relaxation response and settle the mind. Try this pose in the morning at the end of a yoga practice or at the end the day to transition into a restful evening or sleep routine.

How to do it
Find a comfortable, clear and quite place to roll out your mat and lay your pranayama cushion lengthwise along it. Lie down with your entire spine and head supported by the pranayama cushion.  If the low back is sensitive to the gentle arch the support creates, try placing a round bolster beneath the knees or bend your knees and place both feet on the floor. Place your arms a comfortable distance from your sides with arms rotated so the palms face up or down. Melt your shoulder blades around the cushion to broaden the chest. Close your eyes and notice your natural breath.

Before practice
I recommend doing some cat/cow or cakravakasana linked to the breath before settling into this pose.

During practice
Direct your eyes downward toward the chest and body;  close your eyelids. Become more aware of your breath and notice the way it moves through the body, particularly in the torso. Gently begin to deepen your breath, inhaling and exhaling in and out of the nose. As the breath deepens, direct it into the entire torso from top to bottom on the inhale. As you exhale, gently contract from the lower abdomen up to the rib cage. You know you’ve got the correct breath going when it feels like a wave moving through the torso - from top to bottom on the inhale, and bottom to top on the exhale. Continue to grow the breath like this until you land at a length and depth that is comfortably repeatable and feels even. Creating an even breath with the inhales and exhales at the same length will promote a more relaxed body and mind. Continue with this breath work for 5-10 minutes. Consider setting a timer before beginning so you can relax and really drop into the flow of your breath. Before exiting the pose, release your breath control and rest for a moment, observing any shift that has taken place in your mind, body or energy.  To exit the pose, roll gently to one side and use your hands to prop yourself up to seated.  

After practice
Child’s pose is a great follow-up posture for this breathing exercise as it is also a very internalizing pose that will reverse the gentle backbend effect the cushion creates on the spine. Hold it for 6-10 breaths or move dynamically in and out of hands and knees to child's pose.

About Jillian

Jillian is a yogini based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She leads weekly public yoga classes for adults and specializes in yoga for kids and families. Her studies have led her to complete trainings at YogaWorks, Karma Kids and Yoga Playgrounds. Jillian feels blessed to practice and teach yoga and is particularly passionate about empowering her students with tools to navigate the modern world with ease.

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1 comment

  • Thank you for this wonderful blog post. I love the phrase : « amazing that a prop exists that supports our connection to life force ». I have two of those bolsters and use them in many different ways. I now will be inspired to be more regular with pranyama practice.

    Barbara Pelletier

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