Course 4 – Pranayama

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Pranayama is considered to be the heart, the life of yoga much as scientists today believe that breath is the heart of our lives. In this Course, we’ll begin with Yogic Philosophy and Practices and then weave in modern science. We will study how both views complement each other. Western research supports, expands, and adds depth to the Eastern experiential literature. Western researchers are now scientifically proving what Eastern practitioners have been saying for 5,000 years: a significant improvement of somatic & psychological symptoms can be made through understanding and changing habitual patterns of breathing.

Pranayama Overall Objective

Students will learn the philosophy, history and purpose of pranayama as well as the physiology of respiration. They will learn how to practice pranayama and how to teach basic techniques to others. They will learn the contraindications to basic pranayama techniques and how to weave breath and movement.

Pranayama Learning Objective

The trainee will understand what Pranayama is and how it relates to the other limbs in the Yoga Sutras as well as it’s place in the Koshas and the relationship between Prakriti and Purusha. Students will learn the history & philosophy of pranayama from the Vedic times through our current research on the topic. Students will learn: – The history and rationale of Prana including important terms: nadis, vayus, Kundalini, and Chakras. – The Yoga Sutras, 2.49 – 2.52. – The significance of Pranayama in the Radiance Sutras and the Sankhya system of Prakriti and Purusha – Students will learn how pranayama affects our physiology especially the physiology of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. – Students will learn how to practice basic Pranayama techniques and the terms involved: Puruka, Rechaka, Ujjayi, Vritti, Kumbhaka, Viloma, Kapalabhati, Nadi Shodana. – Students will learn how to teach basic pranayama techniques and demonstrate this in a practicum setting.


  • Chapter 6 & 7 in Heart of Yoga, Desikachar
  • Chapter 8 in Teaching Yoga, Mark Stephens.
  • Course 4 Lesson PDFs
  • Review Chapter 6 & 7 & 8 in Yoga: The Spirit & Practice of Moving Into Stillness, Schiffmann

Journaling – To keep for yourself.

  • Practice a pranayama technique each morning…if only for a few minutes. Journal how it affects your day.
  • Compare Desikachar’s & Schiffmann’s description of breathing.
  • What does Desikachar say about the purpose of Pranayama & what are the 5 “forms” he describes.
  • What is the diaphragm’s role in breathing? What other muscles are involved?
  • What is the translation of uddiyana bandha and how is this bandha created?
  • What are the contraindications to uddiyana bandha?
  • How do you teach ujjayii pranayamas? What are some of the key observations about the breath? What are some of the metaphors that are useful?
  • Why do you think there is so much caution in practicing pranayama? In teaching pranayama? Would you be comfortable teaching it? Why or why not?
  • Write a script for teaching the Bandhas (one paragraph each at the most).
  • Write a script for introducing the breath into the Opening of a class you might teach.
  • Why is kapalabhati both a kriya and a pranayama?