PRANAYAMA: the control of breathing

One year ago I wrote the article:” If you control your breath, you control your life”. This sentence can sound obvious and exaggerated, but in reality is true. I saw it by myself in differents situations of my life, and I helped other people to experience it on themselves. And everyone told me the same: the power of breathing is amazing.
What is really incredible for me is how much we forget about this power. Everyone knows that breathing is the key for living; a human being cannot live, without breathing, more than few seconds (or minutes for trained people). But we do breath automatically, unconsciously, without paying attention. It is incredible how much we ignore about the process that keep us alive (like breathing or eating).


In this article I will tell you about the techniques of pranayama or breathing control that you can use in yoga.
I put them in a useful order to practice in a yoga sequence. First of all : Ujjayi breathing or ” the powerful breath” and Kapalabathi or ” shining breath” because they give us energy, and warm up the body, so is best use them at the start of our practice. The other breathing techniques you can do after your asanas, and before meditation.



When you do the Ujjayi breathing correctly, you must feel relax and stimulated. In the Yoga Sutra, PATANJALI suggests that breathing must be DIRGA (long) and SUKSMA (smooth).
The Ujjayi breathing produce a characteristic sound, well modulated and relaxing, like the sound of the waves. What makes this sound is the gentle closing of the epiglottis and that creates some resistance when the air comes through. To obtain this, put gently your tongue on the roof of the mouth, and exhale like you want to steam up a mirror with your mouth close.
The problem you can have, when you practice the Ujjayi breathing,is very simple: you force too much.
The key you have to remember, when you are doing the Ujjayi breathing, is RELAX.
We only have to make a small effort to produce a nice sound, but too much effort give a feeling of holding and a grating sound. To practice your inhalation focus on create a relax, nice and smooth sound and don’t force.
Once you master the Ujjayi breathing in the seated position, you have to practice on keeping the same quality of breathing during the your practice try to keep a long and smoothing sound as much as possible.
Once you get the Ujjayi breathing without forcing  (like, for example, in down facing dog), try to keep this quality of breathing on all you practice.

La respiración Ujjayi requiere una suave constricción de la epiglotis.

Ujjayi breathing


The kapalabathi breathing or ” shining breath”. KAPALA means ” skull” and BATHI means ” shining, illuminating”. The name, in reality, is referred to the effect of clarifying the mind that this breathing thecnique has.
At the body level is a powerful instrument to clean the respiratory tract and that’s why is very important on a detoxing process. Plus they say that KAPALABATHI breathing help us to distress our emotions
We start to practice it for 1 minute, but slowly slowly, we have to add 1 minute every day until we reach 9 minutes. If you start to feel sick, go back to a normal, smooth breathing. 

KAPALABATHI: Para practicar la respiración kapalabhati, siéntate en postura cómoda, en el suelo o en una silla rígida. Inspira de forma natural por la nariz  y al expirar (también por la nariz), hazlo de forma enérgica, contrayendo al mismo tiempo los músculos del abdomen con fuerza. Las inspiraciones se producen de forma automática pero la exhalación debe de ser potente.

Kapalabathi breathing


His name comes from sanscrit: NADI means ” channel” and SHODHANA means ” cleansing or purifying”. The benefits of this thecnique are:
– lower your heart rate, reduce stress and anxiety
– harmonizes both hemispheres of your brain
– cleans your body NADI( the energy channel) so the prana flows easier during the pranayama.
– helps to center and focus your mind
To practice, follow these steps:
– sit in an easy posture, with the right hand in MRIGI MUDRA, while the left hand is on top of the knee.

Mrigi mudra
– close gently your right nostril with the thumb,inhale with your left nostril, while with your ring finger and the little finger you close the left nostril, and slowly you exhale with the right nostril.
– keep the right nostril open, inhale, close and open and slowly exhale with the left one. This is a cycle. Repeat 3 to 5 times and then free the hand from the MUDRA and breath normally.


Brahamari pranayama or “humming bee breath “.
One of his principle effect, using the vibration of his sound (even if this can seem paradoxical) is obtain the internal silence. Brahamari is a practice that has the purpose to bring the practitioner to a meditative state that helps him to listen the sound of the internal silence: NADA ANUSANDANA. It is a basic practice of NADA YOGA, or the yoga of the sound.
Listen the sound of our breathing is very regenerated. This pranayama calm down the emotions. It elimates angryness or anxiety because it brings us to connect with the rhythm of our body. His regular practice improves our well being.
1- choose any seated position, like easy pose, sukhasasa,the perfect posture, sidhasasana,the half lotus pose, ardha padmasana, or the full lotus, padmasana, or even seat in a chair. You can also seat on your ankles, with the knees bent. Close your eyes and relax for few minutes.
2- relax your elbows on your knees and close your ears with your fore finger, try to put, gently, the fingers inside your ears, until you can feel they are completely close. If you have long nail, it will be better if you press with your thumbs on your tragus ( the small pointed eminence of the external ear). If you choose this option, the fingers of your hand close your eyelids, without forcing.
3-stretch your spine and the center of your heart( chakra anahata) has to feel open, don’t pull out your chest in an artificial way.
Keep your shoulder, your face and your neck relax during the practice. Close your eyes and bring your attention inside, to your belly, to your heart, to your throat, and, in the end to your head. Slowly inhale until a comfortable fullness. When you exhale, do it slowly and smoothly by your nostrils, you have to produce a sound, that borns in your palate, like the sound produced by the bees.
4- keep, always, your mouth close, but the theeth are separated. Make this sound during the exhale, try to be steady with a moderate sound.
You can experiment different level of sound until you find the one suitable for you. Once you get it, keep it as much time as you can. The exhalation, is more or less, 30 seconds long. Keep your attention to the buzzing. Keep focusing on the sound, feeling the vibrations that are produce in your mind, in your brain. Observe the vibrations on your face, on your throat, on your chest and on the rest of your body.
5- you notice that the exhalation become longer, now don’t hurry your inhale. Don’t rush the follow exhalation, instead, take your time to fill, slowly, your lungs with air.
6- after exhale, when you finish, continue stay seated in silence. Keep your eyes close. You will notice that the vibrations of the sound continue in your body for a long time. Don’t move any muscle, more you stay quite, more you will be able to observe.
It said in HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA ” with this practice you can become the king of the yogis and the mind is absorbed in this happiness”.
The bhramani pranayama doesn’t present contraindications, but don’t force your lungs and don’t practice lay down.
Inside a sequence of pranayama, you can practice bhramani after KAPALABATHI and NADI SHODHANA pranayama and just before meditation.
His principals benefits are:
– reducing blood pressure
– relieve anxiety and calm down the mind
– induce a meditative state and feeling the internal sound, nada ANUSANDANA
– activate the anahata chakra



SAMA VRITTI pranayama or ” equal breathing”. SAMA is a sanscrit word that means” same, equal, smooth” and VRITTI means ” fluctuation,movement”. So the word is referred to a capacity of this breathing to smooth the fluctuation of the mind, using a regular breathing.
The second chapter of yoga sutra of PATANJALI says ” yoga- chitta- vritti- nirodhah”: when you are in a state of yoga, all the fluctuation of the mind disappear.
This thecnique improves the concentration, so it helps us to silence all the noises we have inside the mind.
Inhale for a few seconds_ hold with full lungs for a few seconds_ exhale for e few seconds_ hold with empty lungs for a few seconds.

Samavritti pranayama.

Samavritti pranayama.

Tranlated by Tania Piovan and Noelia Insa.

Max Czenszak: Ashtanga Yoga as a way of life.

Last weekend I attended an Ashtanga workshop with Max Czenszak, here in Cagliari (Sardinia), in a beautiful studio: Ashram Cagliari Corsi Yoga.
After three days listening to Max, I had a confirm of what I 
already knew: the ashtanga method isn’t just a yoga style, is a way of life.

Max Czenszak, el vivo ejemplo del estilo de vida Ashtanga.

Max Czenszak, the living example of Astanga as a way of life.

Max told us that you cannot practice yoga like a  “weekend-sport”, yoga is, instead, a way to live all your life.
Max himself is a proof of this affirmation.
He started practicing yoga in his country, Poland, until he moved to Mysore in 2009. On his second year of attending classes in Mysore, he received from Sarath Jois, himself,the authorization to teach the Ashtanga method.And this is exceptional because lots of people spend years of practice and they never receive it.

His philosophy of life is very simple to explain, but very difficult to put in practice. Basically there are two rules :
1- Practice every day (except Saturdays and the days with new moon and full moon). Don’t have a break, don’t find excuses and don’t expect too much. Simply practice.
2-Observe life. Live your days looking things as new, like you discover things for the first time, like a child, try to banish the mechanics of your actions. You have to think yourself as a child that is discovering what he likes and what he doesn’t like. You always have to keep questioning yourself because things can change every day. Act with consciousness, choose and observe every behavior, every act you do. Don’t act because you have to or you use to.


Max, following Guru Pattabhi Jois says, that Ashtanga method is 99% practice and 1% theory.
This 1% theory is based on a few textbooks, like:
1- The BAGAVHAD GITA, is the holy book of Hinduism and it is considered one of the most important sacred text.
Bhagavad Gita, texto sagrado del Hinduísmo.

Bhagavad Gita, sacred text of Hinduism.

2- The YOGA SUTRA of PATANJALI, one of the fundamental text of classic yoga, is a text of second century B.C.
3-The HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA, is a text of XV century A.C., was written by Suami Suatmarama and it is considered one of the ancient text of Hatha yoga.
4- The YOGA MALA, is a small book, published for the first time in India in 1962, from Sri Pattabhi Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga method and here he describes his method.
5- SURYA NAMASKAR another book of Pattabhi Jois.

For Max these five books are more than enough for the theory. He told us he reads these books over and over, in his language and also in sanscrit, just to hear their music.

The rest is practice. The yoga, following the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, is made from eight limbs: Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana,dhyana and samadhi.The first four give us the instructions of how behaving in front of the world, in front of ourself and how acting during our practice. The last four, instead, talk about our “spirit”, inside, and no one can teach them, we can only try to put in practice.
A help to do the last four come from the practice itself, and we have to work on our practice constantly and daily. 
Max says “ it isn’t enough to read and understand yamas and niyamas, we need to experience them internally and we just can do it with the practice.”
Mastering the asanas allow us to control our mind: is the same when we have negative thoughts and we influence badly our body. Working on the body makes the mind to change for the better, because mind and body are one. For example: the ashtanga yogi works to keep his look (dristhi) focus. It is an exercise of attention and concentration and we use it, as well, to focus on our life. In this way we reach the sixth part of  Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: dharana. For Max, after years of exercise the concentration, we can reach dhyana or meditation.

Max is never tired to repeat us that the only secret of yoga is: practice. If you ask for tricks or techniques to learn the asana, he always answer the same: more practice.There are no tricks, or magic formula to perform the asanas, the only secret is the daily practice.
The Ashtanga method, created by Sri Pattabhi Jois, is a repetition of a series of asanas. As Max says, is the same sequences, but is never the same. It is a simple system to improve your mind. And a stable mind is easier to be happy.

There are three series: beginners, intermediate and advanced, but the last one is divided in other three. 
The first series represents the YOGA CHIKITSA or therapeutic yoga. It prepares the body and the mind to go further.
The second series, or intermediate series, is the NADI SODHANA, it cleans the nervous system. For this level you need strong body because you have more asanas and you go deeper in your practice. Some teachers introduce some intermediate asanas before finishing the first series, but For Max this can give instability to the mind. It is better follow the method, step by step, without expect too much. Practice brings it all.

The Mysore system is an individual yoga, it is like a private class. The teacher tell you when you can add more asanas. Never listen the suggestions that are given to other yogi, they are only for that person.


Ideally is better practice in the morning because we are awaking a lot of energy, and is not desirable to have it in the night. In the morning, from 4 to 5, is Brahma Muhurta, the period of 1 hour and 36 minutes before the sun comes out. This is the best moment to practice. If you start your night habits at 8 o’clock and at 10 you are in bed, you can easily wake up at 4 or 5 (Max says :-)).

In Ayurveda they say that in the night the energy is Tama Guna, that means we have the Guna of ignorance, lethargic and inertia. That’s why in the night we cannot talk about vital choice or doing difficult work. Max also says to pay attention to the time we give to Facebook or other social network activities.

Before going to bed we have to do some rituals: have a shower with coconut oil, pray mantras and meditate. These make your practice better in the following day. From 10 to 12 are the best hours to rest. Anyway, Max says,to not force yourself to change suddenly your lifestyle. Everything will come when your body and mind will be ready. The only effort is practice daily. Everything else will come if we practice regularly and we look life every day like a new one. In this way we reopen our behaviors and, slowly, we arrive to have this way as a way of life.
But Max remind us that we don’t feel guilty or desperate but always continue to try and practice.
In the end a weekend full of wisdom.

Thank you, Max Czenszak.


Translation into English: Tania Alicia Piovan & Noelia Insa