Pranayama = "Breath Control" or "Breathing Techniques"
Pranayama is the cultivation of breath control through breathing techniques. The goal is to support our prana, or our life force, which is, of course, the breath. There are various breathing practices and they all have different results, particularly for different constitutions. Personally, I tend to start both my meditation and yoga asana practice with pranayama, in order to focus my mind and step outside of the external world and into my internal world inside of my body. But, the beauty of the breath is that you can use it anytime, anywhere, no props necessary. Taking a few deep breaths off of the yoga mat or mediation cushion in the middle of your day can be extremely calming and stress relieving. One of my personal favorites, that is also popular within the Ayurvedic realm, is the alternate nostril breath, for its' ability to connect the left and the right brain hemispheres, resulting in a relaxing effect on the entire nervous system. Simply envision a loop from your root chakra to your third-eye or crown chakra (basically, the base of your trunk to the middle of your forehead or the top of your head) and inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other, then, switch sides. You can even close one nostril at a time, to assist you while you attempt to get into the routine of it. I close my eyes while I do it, since I find it easier to concentrate, that way. It is an easy technique to develop to help connect both sides of your body together centrally. My mantra started off as a simple, "inhale" on the in breath and "exhale" on the out breath, completely filling and alternately, emptying my lungs completely. Feel free to give it a try and see how it resonates with you.