The constant stress we are dealing with daily poses serious health risks and breathing exercises are among the most powerful methods to relax the body and mind.
Pranayama is an effective way to control the nerves, as our mind and breathing are interrelated. It is an ancient yogic art/exercise designed to soothe the body through controlling one’s breathing.
The name comes from Sanskrit, and is composed of two smaller words, “prana” meaning life force, and “ayama” meaning drawing out.
When calm or in deep thoughts, our breathing is slow, and on the other hand, we breathe in quick bursts and in an irregular rhythm when agitated.
Food, water, and sunlight are some of the vital energy or prana sources, and pranayama is the technique of controlling this energy through exhalation and slowing down the release of breath.
According to Dejan Kupnik, M.D. certified YIDL teacher at the Centre for Emergency Medicine -- Prehospital Unit, Maribor/Slovenia:
“Nadis are the channels through which the primordial energy or prana flows as it governs the functioning of the mental and physical planes of our existence.
Areas where the energy becomes most concentrated are called energy centers or chakras. They are related to or connected with particular parts of the body, most notably with some glands.
We know that glands work together with the nervous system to coordinate and influence all psycho-physiological functions of the body.
Wherever energy becomes blocked or cannot flow efficiently for some reason, the normal functioning of different body parts becomes disrupted and if it lasts for a longer time, diseases can emerge.
The ancient yogis discovered that by practicing asanas and pranayama we can efficiently remove pranic energy blocks, thereby allowing our body to regenerate more efficiently.
These blocks are removed by a process of harmonization, or restoring of balance, and it is this balancing principle that yoga and its science represent. “
Mr. Kupnik additionally explains:
“The basis of all breathing techniques is the complete or full breath when, during inhalation our belly expands first, followed by the chest, and during exhalation our chest then belly relax passively.
This way we are able to use our main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, to full effect, inhaling larger quantities of air.
From these extended movements of the diaphragm, abdominal organs are massaged, and blood circulation and digestion processes are improved.
During inhalation the pressure in the abdominal cavity increases, quickening the flow of blood towards the heart and lungs, thereby strengthening these vital organs.”
Therefore, pranayama is an effective way to improve health in many ways, be calm and relaxed, and prevent various physical and psychological diseases.
Here are some of the health benefits of pranayama:
- Detoxifies the body
- Improves mood and calms you down
- Stimulates blood circulation
- Boosts the immune system
- Regulates the rate of breathing and heart rate
- Helps digestion
- Helps weight loss
- Treats depression and anxiety
- The steady breathing skills will help your way into meditation
- Regulates blood pressure
- Extends longevity
Pranayama offers a variety of techniques, all of which are highly beneficial, as follows:
1. Abdominal Breathing
There are three prominent types of breathing: abdominal, chest, and clavicular (shallow), and this technique supplies the maximum oxygen to the lungs.
It reduces stress and tension, massages the heart and the abdominal organs, slows down the heart rate, and regulates blood pressure.
2. Agnisar Kriya
This cleansing technique helps digestion and stimulates metabolism, boosts the energy levels, treats tuberculosis, asthma, and constipation, eliminates excess phlegm, and burns belly fat.
3. Yogic Breathing
This breathing method involves all three respiratory muscles, i.e., abdomen, chest, and clavicle, and thus increases the oxygen supply to all body cells, boosts the sensory perception, and freshens up the mind.
4. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma)
This technique is also known as Nadi shodhana pranayama, and the right nostril or Nadi is called the sun breath (Pingala), while the left one is known as the moon breath (Ida).
The alternated breathing is linked to the function of the brain, as the left brain side is more active when the right nostril is more open, and vice versa.
The right Nadi breathing produces heat and improves metabolism, while the left Nadi relaxes the mind and body.
This method improves the elimination of carbon dioxide, cleanses the lungs, boosts the oxygen supply to the blood, and improves the focus.
5. Murcha Pranayama
Murcha pranayama, meaning “to faint or expand”, boosts the concentration and calms the body and mind.
It belongs to the group of six cleansing body exercises, or sat kriyas, and it stimulates the brain, treats bronchial congestion and asthma, improves the capacity of the lungs, and cleanses the nasal pathways and the respiratory system.
Moreover, it boosts the flow of oxygen in the body and the outflow of carbon dioxide, helps the function of the circulatory and digestive system, and massages the stomach, heart, liver, and pancreas.
It involves slow, deep breathing that improves digestion, increases the capacity of the lungs, treats dysentery and dyspepsia, and regulates the nervous system.
It can involve restraining the intake of breath (Antara kumbhaka) or restraining the exhalation (bahya kumbhaka). It is believed that holding the breath for a minute increases the lifespan by 1 minute.
It uses the entire respiratory system, treats asthma, fights throat inflammation and diseases caused by the excess phlegm or bile, stimulates appetite, and increases the gastric fire.
10. Udgeeth Pranayama
It will help you improve your memory, relieve stress, alkalize the body, and treat hypertension.
This technique includes breathing in through the mouth, and exhaling through the nostrils. This will help you cleanse the blood, cool the body system, and treat excessive thirst.
People of any age will benefit from practicing the pranayama techniques, but avoid them if you suffer from any severe heart-related issue.
It would be best to practice pranayama under the guidance of a yoga teacher in order to be able to reap all its benefits.