‘Breathing is the physical part of thinking and thinking is the psychological part of breathing.” – Ayurveda
Pranayama is a part of Yoga system that teaches you the art of extending your breath in many different ways. When practicing pranayama the breath should be skilfully inhaled, exhaled and retained. It teaches you to change the depth, rate and pattern of breathing.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which literally translates into “extension of the prana or breath”. ‘Prana’ means life-force and it is the life-force or vital energy that pervades the body. Prana is the link between mind and consciousness. The physical manifestation of “prana’ is breath and ”ayama” means to extent or draw out the breath.
When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Getting ready for Pranayama:
To do pranayama sit facing east or north in a comfortable cross legged position on a yoga mat. Make sure your head, neck and chest are in a straight line and keep your spine stretched. Pranayama should not be performed within an hour of eating, bathing or sexual activity without at least an hour gap.
Who should not be doing Pranayama?
Pranayama should be practiced with care and it is better to do advanced pranayama with a teacher’s guidance.
- Pranayama is not recommended during menstruation, and pregnancy.
- Anyone with any form of heart condition, particularly if they have a recent history of heart attack. People with low blood pressure must practice pranayama under the guidance of a teacher or Ayurvedic Doctor.
- Avoid if you have fever, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
- Anyone going through radiation or chemo therapy.
- Not recommended for anyone going through psychological condition, sadness, grief, trauma, anger, anxiety, depression or suicidal feelings.
Benefits of Pranayama
Benefits of pranayama are both tangible and intangible. God has provided prana, the supreme source of power free of cost to all human beings. Proper utilisation of this free source of energy can make remarkable changes to our health, vitality and self-confidence. We cannot simply equate prana with oxygen present in the air, the air we breathe is also filled with vital energy known as prana.
All benefits of pranayama cannot be written down, there are lot of subtle changes like mental peace and clarity of thought that occur in our mind.
Reduced Breathing Rate
With yoga breathing you can train yourself to breathe more slowly and more deeply. You can reduce your breathing rate from about fifteen breaths a minute to 5-6 breaths a minute, which amounts to reducing the breathing rate by one third. Reduced breathing rate leads to:
- Slowing down the heart rate as more oxygen can be pumped even with less number of breaths. Follow the ration of 1:2 for inhalation:exhalation.
- Reduced wear and tear of internal organs.
- Lowering of blood pressure, relaxation of body tensions and quieter nerves.
Pranayama Practice Increases Life
As per yoga philosophy, longevity depends on your breathing rate. Lowering of breathing rate is likely to increase your life. For example, a tortoise takes four to five breaths in a minute and it lives up to 200 years or more.
Blood Circulation Improves
As a result of breathing, the freshly oxygenated blood (during inhalation) travels from lungs to the heart. The heart pumps it via arteries and blood vessels to every part of the body, where in turn it seeps into every tissue and cell. This improves the blood circulation and more oxygen/ prana or cosmic energy reaches all parts of your body.
Pranayama for Healthy Heart
Our heart is the most industrious organ of our body. The heart beats 100,000 times a day. It is pumping blood day in and day out non-stop all your life. The health of your heart determines your life expectancy and quality of life in old age. More oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart.
Benefits of Pranayama for Functioning of Body Organs
- Better functioning of autonomic system improves the working of lungs, heart, diaphragm, abdomen, intestines, kidneys and pancreas.
- Digestive system improves and diseases pertaining to digestive organs are cured.
- General irritability due to lethargy/ fatigue vanishes.
- By pranayama practice all body organs gets more oxygen, toxins are removed from body, therefore onset of various diseases is prevented. Pranayama strengthens the immune system.
Better Mental Health
- Pranayama practice provides freedom from negative and harmful mental conditions like anger, depression, lasciviousness, greed for money, arrogance etc.
- With pranayama fluctuations of mind are controlled and it prepares the mind for meditation. With practice of pranayama, you will start experiencing lightness of body, feeling of inner peace, better sleep, better memory and better concentration whereby improving the spiritual powers/ skills.
Better Breathing Improves Quality of Life in Old Age
As a person with sedentary lifestyle reaches middle age, lung tissues tend to grow less and less elastic and lung capacity decreases. Pranayama can help to reduce the effects of following old age problems:
- Loss of vitality.
- Accumulation of uric acid in the blood stream which often leads to frequent joint pains and discomfort.
- Backaches, headaches, rheumatism, stiffening muscles and joints.
- Proper circulation of blood is impeded by a sluggish diaphragm or hardening arteries.
It is recommended to start learning pranayama from a yoga teacher without any delay in order to experience the immense benefits of pranayama. Benefits of yoga breathing can be realised only by experience. Establish a daily routine of yoga breathing exercises. If you want to start on your own, first start with rhythmic deep breathing to get into the rhythm.
For correct pose, see the image above.
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