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Purification Through Air: The Power of Pranayama

Air is soft, spacious, and all-pervading. Air gives us life, it has no boundaries or limitations, and travels beyond what the naked eye can see. Air reminds us of our inner expansiveness, our ability to grow beyond what we think we’re capable of, and represents a lofty intelligence spoken from the heart. Subtle, vulnerable, and asking nothing in return, air creates an environment of belonging by accepting all beings. 

Air is one of the five elements in the body that we discover in the natural world. Each of the elements rely on each other and require balance to restore harmony: fire needs air to thrive as water needs earth to provide a container. The air we breathe also feeds the plants and soil. When we breathe air into our body, cells are revitalized through the deliverance of fresh oxygen to the lungs, blood, organs, and tissues. Energetically, air is a purifier to cleanse the mind and body of hyper-active or static states of energy.

In a previous #PracticeWithClara podcast, Clara shared tips and tools to understand the subtle body, which is profoundly affected by how we breathe. The breath is key to understanding the relationship between the mind and body, as well as our relationship with ourselves and the rest of the world. A teacher of meditation and yoga for over a decade, Clara’s classes on the Practice With Clara Site are peppered with pranayama techniques to open the inner body and develop a stronger connection to the life force within. 

This article captures the symbolic quality of air in our everyday lives and the importance of recognizing the elements in our day-to-day interactions. It also shares a few of the powerful pranayama practices and kundalini kriyas to purify the mind and body to create spaciousness within so you might interact with more compassion and calm. 

Air as Giving and Sustaining Life

Just like we need air to keep our bodies alive, we need compassion to stay connected to each other and the natural environment. Without air, our organs, brain, cells, and tissues die. Without love, we lack the bond of belonging. Air is essential to our physical survival as love is essential to our emotional survival. 

We’re connected to nature and all species through the action of breathing, inhaling and exhaling to sustain and give life to each other. We’ve a reciprocal relationship with nature based on the process of inspiration and respiration: trees absorb air and take in the carbon dioxide, then, with help from the sun, oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. 

Air is symbolic of our relationship to all that is around us, animals and plants, and the people in our communities. Our love has no boundaries, no limitations, like the air we breathe. Separation, judgement, and rejection of others and our love is as unnatural as stopping the flow of breath in the body. We cannot function without the flow of life moving through us, be it air or compassion. 

Air and Anahata Chakra

Our heart center is how we connect to others and live with a sense of lightness and compassion. In a previous post on Anahata Chakra, I shared practices and techniques to bring awareness to the heart space. Air is the element for Anahata. Each of the chakras are associated with an element to tap into the energies of the natural world that are reflected within the body. When we’re out of alignment in our physical body, this affects our mental and emotional states. Practices for the heart to open the shoulders, lengthen the side waist, and strengthen the back body, provide a sense of spaciousness inside that’s reflected in our interactions with others. When we feel space and lightness within, we’re better equipped to interact with these qualities and ways that inspire compassion and love. 

The Power of Pranayama

The fourth limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Pranayama is the mastery of breath-control and recognition of the relationship between the breath, body, and mind. Prana means life force. Pranayama is control or constriction of life force. It’s the energetic current created in the body we control by bringing awareness to the breath. Focused pranayama brings a state of calm to the body and mind, influencing the body’s central nervous system to have an effect on the hormones released, thereby shifting our emotions and how we feel. 

The body is made up of energy lines called nadis, which affect the body’s subtle energy. There are three main nadis in the body: sushumna, ida and pingala. Sushumna is the central channel that travels from the base of the spine to the crown of the head and the source for each of the seven chakras. Ida is the channel that travels along the left side of the body, and pingala is the channel that travels along the right side of the body. The aim of pranayama is to understand the flow of breath by gaining awareness of how the breath lights up the nadis, shifts our subtle energy, and overall transforms how we think and feel. Pranayama is the key to inner transformation and one of the most accessible tools for yoga alchemy. 

Moving Meditation for Purification

In this short Moving Meditation class with Clara, you’ll move through a variety of kriyas to purify the mind and body, pranayama to open and expand the lungs, and meditation to relieve stress and connect to silence. Pranayama and kriyas have the power to shift our energy, from feeling anxious to grounded or stagnant to uplifted, these breathing techniques have the power to transform. 

4-Part Breathing

This pranayama provides a sense of grounding and creates stillness in the body and mind. Great to practice if you have high-energy and want to calm down.
4-part breath is also known as Sama Vritti. In Sanskrit, sama means ‘equal’ and vritti means ‘flow’. This technique balances the breath by breathing in/out and retaining the breath to calm the heart-rate and nervous system.

How To
Inhale for the count of four
Hold at the top for the count of four
Exhale for the count of four
Hold at the bottom for the count of four

Repeat several cycles and then sit in meditation to be in how you feel. 

Kundalini Mudra 

A clearing technique to purge excess energy by sharply exhaling through the mouth. This technique keeps the energy moving and high. Great to practice if you want to stay elevated and awake but still purge any excess stress or tension. 

How To
Inhale sharply through the nose and make a fist with your hands
Exhale sharply through the mouth and sparkle out your fingers

Repeat several cycles speeding up or slowing down as necessary. 

Sufi Grinds

This moving meditation relieves tension in the low back and brings flexion/extension to the spine. Sufi Grinds draws the energy upwards from the root of the spine to the crown of the head. Great to balance any nervous energy and clear away static energy.

How To 
Inhale through the nose and arch the spine as you lean forward
Exhale through the nose and round the back as you shift backward

Stay seated and draw circles with your body by rotating the torso. Create larger and smaller circles and imagine drawing energy upwards from the pelvis to the crown of the head. Root down at the seat to feel grounded as you move. 

Lions Breath

Lion’s Breath connects you to your inner child, creating a space for play to rid the body of amassed stress. It relieves tension, improves circulation, and opens the front of the chest, neck, and throat. 

How To
Exhale sharply out the mouth and stick out your tongue with your fingers anchored on the ground. Add a growl or any sounds, including laughter, as you exhale.

Air: A Reminder to Keep Things Moving

The flow of life is all around us. Nature reminds us that stagnation is not possible. The seasons express the cycles of change we move through and undergo. From the sunflower seed to the strike of thunder, we’re surrounded by signs that capture the eternal connection of creation and destruction. 

Our bodies provide a tangible contact with the world and a means to connect to others as we establish relationships, build community, and feel the flow of love that arises as a result. When we feel the pulse of life in our bodies by bringing awareness to the breath and engaging in physical activity, we break-up any stagnant and/or stuck energy and release anxieties that threaten to dismantle our connection with the universe and inherent love. 

In the new class this week, Keep It Moving, the idea is to move with the flow of your breath, create rhythm with your body, and connect to the environment around you. 

Keep It Moving

Keep It Moving 

Keep it moving with Clara and the students of Lila Vinyasa Yoga in this air-inspired yoga class that stimulates and frees the body with quick and subtle movement. As you move, focus on the ujjayi breath and ask yourself: how does this movement feel and how does my breath correspond? The element air is associated with curiosity, intuition, motion, light, and quick-wittedness; keep this in-mind as you breathe.

* Learn more about Clara’s 300 hour yoga teacher training OR 200 hour yoga teacher training courses. * Interested in more classes from #PracticeWIthClara, check out our vinyasa flow yoga, online yoga classes, or try out the 30 day yoga challenge.

New members receive 7-days free.