Marichyasana-2

It’s not as if you don’t know how to already, but instructions on how to breathe properly are everywhere. Long before you knew you weren’t doing it correctly, one man in particular was bringing the science and art of breathing, what is called pranayama, as a part of yoga, to the United States.

B. K. S. Iyengar was instrumental in making yoga popular in the West. Mindful breathing, or pranayama, was a cornerstone of his yoga practice and what he taught.

He wrote several books on the subject, including Light on Pranayama – The Art of Yogic Breathing. From his first book, Light on Yoga, comes the famous quote, “The mind is the king of the senses, and breathing is the king of the mind.” Published in 1966, it anticipated by many years the current and booming popularity and interest in breathing techniques for health and well-being. In 2004, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His school of yoga is known and taught worldwide.

Prana is an ancient Sanskrit word for life force or vital principle. Pranayama does not actually refer to air or oxygen but to the  breathing techniques by which you bring prana into your body and connect the breath to the mind and body.

Read here for an overview of Iyengar’s three pranayamic stages of breathing—puraka (inhalation), antara kumbhaka (retention) and rechaka (exhalation), and see Iyengar here practicing an achingly long inhale and exhale.

Iyengar, who died at the age of 95 in 2014, also said, “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days but by the number of his breaths.” We breathe almost 20,000 times a day. Hopefully, practice makes perfect and for the same full and peaceful life Iyengar lived, taught and promoted. Happy New Year.