Pranayama, Mudras, and Bandhas
by Candra Smith
Pranayama- Prana (life force) Ayama (expansion) is the fourth limb of yoga and the precursor to more subtle forms of a yoga practice. It is said that if one can control the breath, then one can control the mind. Through the practice of pranayama, the nadis are purified and as a result, the skin glows, the voice becomes melodious, the eyes sparkle, and higher levels of consciousness are revealed. From a scientific perspective, the body temperature lowers improving immunity, the breath slows, blood pressure lowers, the diaphragm is utilized massaging the organs of digestion, the vagus nerve is soothed, and the parasympathetic nervous system is pacified. When done correctly in combination with the retentions, bandhas, and mudras one can begin to tap into the true benefits of a yoga practice.
I have a very distinct memory of my childhood, laying in bed and inhaling through my nose and exhaling making an audible humming sound behind closed lips. It would take 20 years before I discovered I was practicing brahmari, the bumblebee breath used to help calm the nervous system and encourage sleep. Fast forward to when I was 19 years old, I moved to North Carolina into an apartment complex with a pool. I would float in that pool and inhale bring my arms overhead, hold my breath in so that I could use my lungs as a floatation device, and exhale long and slow lowering my arms repeating that over and over. I remember being in such a peaceful place in my body. It was in that same year that I bought my first meditation book. Working as a barista and going to school I was required to wake very early and as my book recommended I would sit, breathe, and count my breath.
Although I have had an undeniably rich life, that does not mean it has always been easy. I have suffered greatly at times with depression, anxiety, fear, and anger. Ayurvedically I have tapped into the dysfunctions of all three doshas at some point in my life. It was solely my practice of the eight limbs of yoga that has turned my life around. The times I have felt the worst in my life are the times when I have been a “sleepwalker” through my experiences, blaming others for anything that goes wrong. The times I have felt the most joy, are the times when I feel connected to everything; when every experience, everything I read, and everyone I meet is a constant reminder of the existence of God and my own divinity.
We all have our life stories, but what we may not realize is that our breath has been a part of every aspect of that story. We have the ability at any moment to access our breath as a tool to keep us connected to Source and the present moment. With the proper knowledge to work with the breath, in combination with a good heart and good intentions, you can begin to unlock your greatest potential. It is available to all of us.
Interested in a deep dive into Pranayama, Mudras, and Bandhas with Candra? Register here for an immersive weekend!