Practicing Breath Control the Traditional

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Hatha Yoga includes various methods of breath control, all of which belong to the more advanced practices and traditionally follow extensive purification of body and mind. Some Western teachers have incorporated these methods into their beginner's classes, but our experience shows us that they're best at the intermediary to advanced levels. There are, however, three methods that we believe are suitable for beginners if you practice them with the necessary modifications and precautions.

Traditional Hatha Yoga emphasizes holding the breath — not a good idea for beginners. In this section, we focus on techniques that are safe for any healthy person to practice.

The cooling methods discussed in this section are best done in warm weather to avoid overcooling.

Expanding the life force through Yoga

According to Yoga, the breath is just the material aspect of an energy that is far more subtle and universal. Called prana (pronounced prah-nah), which means both "breath" and "life," this energy corresponds to the Chinese concept chi, known to a growing number of Westerners from acupuncture and Far Eastern martial arts.

This life force underlies everything that exists and, ultimately, is the power (shakti, pronounced shuk-tee) aspect of the spirit itself. When prana leaves the body, a person dies. Thus, the practitioners of Hatha Yoga seek to carefully preserve the life force and enhance or expand it as much as possible. The most significant practice for doing so is pranayama (pronounced prah-nah-yah-mah), a Sanskrit term that is often incorrectly explained as being composed of prana and yama ("control"). In fact, it drives from prana and ayama (pronounced ah-yah-mah) — the expansion or extension of the life force. So, although the term is conveniently translated as "breath control," it's actually much more.

Science has solved many mysteries but is still puzzled about life itself. Some scientists now believe that a subtle, vital energy that can't be reduced to biochemistry does indeed operate in the body. They have named it bioenergy or bioplasma. Through Yoga, especially yogic breathing, you can come to control that energy, whatever you want to call it, in your own body. Some Yoga masters can even influence the life force in someone else's body, helping them to heal or speeding up their spiritual awakening.

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