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Pranayam and the Four-Fold Breath

Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath. It brings more oxygen to the blood and brain and helps control Prana, our vital life energy. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana, which means life force, or vital energy, (also known as the breath), and ayama, which means to extend or draw out. The main purpose of pranayama is to relax the body and mind.

There are many kinds of pranayama and the more advanced techniques should only be done under the supervision of an expert, since working with breath can unleash powerful forces or energies in the body and mind.

However, there is a popular technique called the Four Fold Breath that can calm and “ground” a practitioner, helping them prepare for meditation and rituals. This is the simplest rhythm for the beginner.

The focus is on regular breathing. Simply inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold with empty lungs for a count of four. Repeat the entire process. How fast or slow you count is not important. Find a rhythm that works for you and allows you to feel comfortable and relaxed. Once you have attained this, continue for a minute or two, or until you are completely quieted and relaxed. You may then proceed with your meditation or ritual work.

There should be no strain of any kind during your pranayama. Begin with a minute or two a day for the first week and gradually increase up to five minutes a day.

If you do this simple pranayama technique before your magical activity, it will help you to get 'into the mood'. It is also an excellent aid to relaxation, tension release and centering yourself.

Pranayama should not be done during times when there is heavy air pollution if you have allergies. Other exercises you might consider are hatha yoga, calesthentics, walking or jogging.