Yoga must have been very different back in the day. Imagine if you had joined a yoga school in India around the time of Patanjali. You would have left all of your earthly belongings to study yoga. A portion of your daily practice, aside from learning Sanskrit, doing asana, practicing devotion to your teachers, doing japas and cleaning the temple, would be a regular practice of pranayama in preparation for meditation.
Fast forward to 2015. There is no temple. There is no renunciation. You have bills and if you are lucky you have a job. To top it off, yoga is becoming now a fad with endless selfie pictures on the news feed. Had enough? Perhaps you can reclaim some elements of the past by finding a quiet place, shutting off your devices, and doing 10 to 15 minutes of pranayama. That is not much to ask considering 15 minutes is only 1.042% of your day.
Pranayama is an extremely subtle practice on the nervous system, and the esoteric yoga anatomy. In the Iyengar system, pranayama is kept separate from asana practice. It requires total concentration. For beginners, pranayama is learned in Savasana (corpse pose) with support that expands the chest cavity. I would highly recommend getting Light On Pranayama and studying with a certified teacher before getting too “experimental” with pranayama. Iyengar strongly suggests it could be harmful if done improperly.
I have found lunchtime to be optimal for my pranayama practice. It corresponds nicely to one’s natural circadian rhythm around “siesta time.” I can find a quiet place, set up my blankets, do 15 minutes of pranayama/savasana, and then eat my lunch. Since I am a case manager, I usually have the freedom to choose where I can do this. If you are in an office you can find an empty room or quiet area.
Today, I did pranayamas with a “breathing out” emphasis to reduce my job related stress. I did Ujjayi II, Viloma II, and Bhramari 2A and 2B (see Light on Pranayama). Afterwards it was like hitting the “reset” button. I was able take on my challenging daily tasks with a clear mind and and a sense of hopefulness that had been absent for the previous part of the day.
Another advantage of doing pranayama is that you don’t need any special workout/yoga clothing. Just make sure your clothing does not constrict your breathing. Having a regular pranayama practice is nowhere near as flashy as the ubiquitous #instagramyogis that swarm the interwebs, but true yoga is done for the inward experience.