With Pranayama, You Can Tap Into Your Life Force And Unlock Your Vitality.
Pranayama refers to the techniques of breath in the practice of yoga, through which you can access the very source of energy and vitality within you. There are many scientific benefits of pranayama on your physical health/ability, mental clarity and perception. It is also a necessary preparation for the more inward focused aspects of yoga. Pranayama is recommended for anyone beginning their yoga practice together with the yoga asanas (physical postures).
What Is Pranayama?
Pranayama in Sanskrit can be translated to ‘regulation and control of prana – the life force’ within you. ‘Prana’ is a foundational concept in yoga. To understand how pranayama works, it is necessary to first grasp the concept of the subtle bodies and prana. Here is a quick overview.
As per Yajurveda (one of the Vedas and original sources of yogic science of life), the living human body can be thought of as five simultaneous dimensions, also called the ‘subtle bodies’ –
- Physical body (‘Anna-maya’) – Physical body, internal organs. Anna = food. Most tangible of the five.
- Life force that pervades the entire being (‘Prana-maya’) – Body made of ‘Prana’, the vital force that holds the body and the mind together.
- Mental body and the five senses (‘Mano- maya’) – Mano/Manas = mind. This dimension is also responsible for the sense of I/mine.
- Intellectual and the discriminating body (‘Vijnana-maya’) – It is a combination of the intellect and the five senses.
- Blissful body which manifests itself only in deep sleep (‘Anand-maya’) – It is that aspect of the body which is still there when the perceiving mind and sense organs cease to function.
Can you see how these five aspects/faculties form very independent dimensions of our being? As per the yogic science of life, the life-force, ‘prana’ flows through these subtle bodies through the circulatory system of 72,000 ‘nadis’ and chakras – which are considered to be the channels that carry the prana. A seamless flow of prana through the subtle bodies is necessary to maintain the vitality in your life.
Pranayama is the control of the flow of ‘prana’ in the subtle bodies with the help of breathing techniques which form an integral part of the yoga practice. You can not directly access prana, except through your breathing. You may be of the opinion that breathing correctly is normal and is a part of human nature but it is not entirely true. Even if breathing is a subconscious process, there are a lot of factors that have the potential to influence it, say, stress, poor posture, air pollution, obesity etc. As per yogic principles, breathing isn’t merely the exchange of gases for survival but is actually the vehicle that channels and regulates the vital energy(prana) of your body.
While practicing the different types of Pranayama, people control their inhalation and exhalation and follow a particular sequence of breathing and holding of breath. Whether practiced as a part of your yogic routine or as independent breathing exercises, Pranayama can lift up your vitality and boost your energy levels, treat physical ailments and make your mind clear and more discerning. Let’s take a closer look.
Benefits Of Pranayama To Physical Health
Improves Digestive Health And Efficiency
In vedic sciences of life – yoga and ayurveda, digestive health is of supreme importance. You are what you ‘digest’. Assimilation of the food you eat and its transformation into life energy is critical to your health and wellbeing. Pranayama improves digestive health in more than ways.
Digestion is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is heavily influenced by stress and anxiety. Pranayama like anulom-vilom relieve stress and anxiety which indirectly improves your digestion.
Pranayama techniques like kapal-bhati and bhastrika, involve belly breathing, which is scientifically proven to stimulate the movement of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and improve digestion.
Improves Cardiovascular Health And Hypertension
You are all aware of the notorious connection between hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart attacks / strokes. Practice of pranayama and meditation are highly effective ways of correcting and managing hypertension.
Deergha shwasam, Sheetkari Pranayam, Nadi shodhan (also called nadi shuddhi), Chandra-bhedan pranayam and slowly done Bhastrika pranayam have been proven to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Boosts The Immune System
Deep diaphragmatic breathing during pranayama such as kapal-bhati, stimulates the movement of lymph as well as improves the oxygen levels in blood. The lymph movement helps in two ways. First, to produce white blood cells, which are the warrier cells in our blood stream fighting infections and preventing disease. Second, to flush out the cellular debris and toxins from the body. These factors help improve the immune system.
Helps In Weight Loss
Pranayama is deep and conscious breathing, in which oxygen supply increases to the cellular community of our body. Due to this increase in the oxygen supply, the metabolic activity (the digestive fire in the body, referred to as ‘agni’ in ayurveda and yogic texts) in the body rises which supports burning calories.
In Pranayama, the forceful exhalation of air activates the abdominal muscles, which improves the digestive capacity (called ‘agni’) and helps in the removal of excess fat and toning of the abdomen.
Anulom Vilom and Bhramari pranayamas remove toxins from the blood, oxygenate the body tissues better and also promote the secretion of serotonin, which is the happiness hormone. Reduced stress levels are highly correlated with shedding the kilos, gained from poor lifestyle choices.
Strengthens The Respiratory System
Pranayama can improve your lung health as all of the breathing techniques engage your lungs and you’re actually giving them a workout every time you practice this. Proven scientific benefits of pranayama include beneficial effects on asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients.
MENTAL BENEFITS OF PRANAYAMA
Lifts Your Spirits
GABA is a neurotransmitter which is often called “nature’s chill-pill” or “nature’s Xanax” because it helps you to relax and unwind yourself, especially when you are most anxious. A study has found that after just 1 session of yoga practice which consists of postures, pranayama, meditation, and chanting, the practitioners experienced a 27% increase in GABA levels.
Helps Combat Chronic Stress
Specific pranayama techniques such as Ujjayi breathing and Bhastrika pranayam can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Physiologically, deep breathing pranayamas improve the flow of nutrients and oxygen required for the brain to function well.
In addition, these pranayamas have been found to improve the connectivity in the areas of the brain involved in emotion processing, attention, and awareness. Therefore, pranayama cools your mind, soothes your nervous system and helps you to combat chronic clinical stress.
Pranayama Benefits For Brain
Pranayama helps fight trauma. It can have great effects on your nervous system. Inhalations and exhalations tend to stimulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and have been proven to help fight trauma induced anxiety.
Pranayama benefits to improves sleep
If your sleep cycle has gone for a toss and you have been struggling with insomnia-like symptoms, pranayama can be highly effective in putting your sleep back on track.
Bhramari pranayama which stimulates the pineal gland (responsible for inducing sleep), chandra-bhedan (left nostril breathing) pranayam which has soothing effects on the nervous system and is known to bring your resting heart rate and blood pressure down and anulom vilom pranayama known for its effects of relaxing and clearing the mind – are the best ways to get a sound sleep.
Pranayama For Beginners
Hatha yoga pradipika, which is considered to be one of the most influential existing texts on hatha yoga, lists eight fundamental types of pranayamas. However, the following five pranayamas are highly recommended by experts to be done on a daily basis. They can be done by kids and adults alike.
1. Bhastrika Pranayama
It is a deep breathing technique, considered excellent for respiratory health and strength of the immune system. It will keep diseases associated with the respiratory system at bay. If you are suffering from hypertension, it is advised to do it slowly. Completely healthy individuals can do it at a fast rate too.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
Considered a tonic for the health of the brain and your nervous system, this yogic breath control practice involves the alternation of the right and the left nostril. It helps to relax your body and mind, reduce your anxiety, improve your emotional responses and promote your overall well being. It also helps in lowering the blood pressure.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama
This pranayama is great to keep the thyroid healthy. It stills the mind, improves your focus, your mind-body connection and stabilizes the life force within you. It also improves oxygen levels in blood and regulates blood pressure.
This type of pranayama is also called victorious breath, hissing breath, or ocean’s breath because it requires you to gently constrict the back of the throat to make the sound of ocean waves. This is an excellent choice for calming the mind and body down. It is also very simple to do and can be done virtually anytime and anywhere.
4. Kapalbhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath)
This breathing technique is also known as “bellows breathing” because your inhalation and exhalation makes your lower belly act like a bellow contracting and expanding towards the spine.
Practicing this pranayama is considered excellent for the health of internal organs and digestive health. It improves the digestive fire (‘agni’) which is responsible for assimilating the food we eat and making sure the nutrients are absorbed and available for nourishment.
If you are suffering from heart conditions, high or low blood pressure, ulcers, glaucoma, detached retina, history of stroke or epilepsy – you should do it at a slower rate which feels comfortable to you. Nevertheless, you should consult your health care advisor before doing this pranayam. Pregnant women or those who have had recent c-sections or any kind of abdominal surgery are advised to avoid it.
5. Bhramari pranayama (Humming bee breath)
It is one of the most effective pranayamas to provide deep relaxation to your mind. Therefore it is highly beneficial for people with symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression, migraine and any disorders of the nervous system.
Besides the calming effects, it is also highly meditative and helps you to connect with your inner self. It also promotes self regulation and self discipline.
This exercise involves the using of fingers to block the ears and/or the eyes. On exhalation, you should make a humming sound like a bee with your tongue touching the ceiling of your mouth. As you do it, become mindful of the subtle vibrational effects of the humming. It is best practiced while sitting upright.
However, pregnant women especially those with chest pain and those with high blood pressure, epilepsy or an active ear infection advised to consult a health care expert before practicing this pranayama.
Prana is responsible for how you feel physically, mentally and how connected you feel with the life inside you and your environment. Taking charge of your prana opens the door for leveraging your untapped potential and discovering your hidden energy and vitality. The scientific benefits of pranayama stem from the fact that breathing is the gateway to your prana – the life force within you.
Though breathing is an automatic process, you can voluntarily control and influence its automatic rhythms through Pranayama. It has significant implications for your mind and body. With the simple and effective list of pranayamas for beginners above, we hope you will include these potent practices in your day to day!
Don’t forget to check out these common questions others ask when considering to start Pranayama?
How do you start a pranayama practice?
Sit quietly and comfortably. Relax your body and retrieve yourself from the thoughts running through your mind. this may take some time. Take a few deep and slow breaths prep your body. You can try doing ‘anulom-vilom’, it is very easy to do and highly beneficial.
What are the eight types of pranayama?
There are 8 types of pranayam-
- Nadi Sodhana
- Shitali Pranayama
- Ujjayi Pranayama
- Kapalabhati Pranayama
- Bhastrika Pranayama
- Bhramari Pranayama
- Anuloma & Viloma Pranayama
- Sheetkari Pranayama