Breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do when we leave. In between that time, we take about half a billion breaths. What we may not realize is that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and can influence each other. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath. Learning to breathe consciously and with awareness can be a valuable tool in helping to restore balance in the mind and body.
The word pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words: prana (life force) and yama (control). By controlling the breath, you can influence every
aspect of your life. You can train yourself to breathe in a way that has a positive influence on your health. Prana is the vital energy needed by
our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. It is what keeps us alive.
Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called 'nadis' and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines one’s state of mind. If the Prana level is high and its flow is continuous, smooth and steady, the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic. However, due to lack of knowledge and attention to one’s breath, the nadis and chakras in the average person may be partially or fully blocked leading to jerky and broken flow. As a result one experiences increased worries, fear, uncertainty, tensions, conflict and other negative qualities.
You can invigorate your body and mind with the breathing technique known as bhastrika or “bellows breath”, or Kapalabhati, “shining breath”. These exercises cleanse your lungs while increasing the oxygen flow to your cells and tissues. These techniques also help with motivation and are known to increase lung capacity, improve circulation, boost metabolism, tone abdominal muscles and improve digestion and elimination.
Nadi Shodan Pranayama / Alternate Nostril Breathing is a beautiful breathing technique that helps keep the mind calm, happy and peaceful by just practicing it for a few minutes. It also helps release accumulated tension and fatigue as it helps clear out blocked energy channels in the body. It is also known as AnulomVilom pranayama or in English you can say “clearing the channels.” Nadishodhan primarily aims at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind-body organism, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects and is a suitable practice for most anyone.
(nadi= subtle energy channel; shodhan = cleaning, purification; pranayama = breathing technique)
Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple deep breathing technique that teaches you how to use your diaphragm, a sheet of muscle at the bottom of our lungs and the most important muscle for breathing.
It is often used as a complementary therapy for anxiety disorders and may also help to boost energy and stamina. A regular daily practice of deep belly breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being.
The Pranayama techniques mentioned above are specially developed to create and store a huge amount of energy in the solar plexus area at the navel center. This will cause the body to radiate vitality and, if any sickness is developing, the body can call upon some of this energy reserve to combat the disease. Yoga breathing also improves brain function (intelligence and memory), as well as increasing the elimination of toxins from the system. Performing one of these breathing techniques twice daily for only three to five minutes can produce long-term benefits.
In our respiration process, we inhale oxygen into our bodies. The air goes through our body systems as a form of energy to charge our different body parts. Then we exhale carbon dioxide and throw away all toxic wastes from our bodies. However, our lives are full of stress and our minds are a mad house of non-stop thoughts which stop us from breathing properly. Eventually our breath becomes fast and shallow – thereby using only a fraction of our lung capacity. Thus, the lack of oxygen and not being able to completely rid our bodies of the carbon dioxide, may lead to health problems. Heart disease, sleep disorders and fatigue are just a few of the effects of a lack of oxygen and prana to the body. The mind becomes like a restless monkey with non-stop thoughts complicating our lives. We can enhance the oxygen intake and also exhale carbon dioxide fully by practicing deep and systematic breathing through Pranayama, which can energize the body with fresh prana. Vitality, calmness, alertness of mind, concentration and glow of the skin are some of the many benefits of Pranayama.
Breathing is a normal part of our lives, though we fail to pay attention to it. It is a voluntary function of the body that we perform without thinking. Why then do we have to learn
yoga breathing? Here are some reasons why Pranayama is important:
Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe. We have become accustomed to breathing from our chests, using only a fraction of our lungs, not knowing that this is an unhealthy and unnatural way of inhaling and may lead to complications. With yoga breathing, we increase the capacity of our lungs, bringing more oxygen supply to the body to function well. We learn how to breathe slowly and deeply – the right way.
Pranayama reduces the toxins and body wastes from our bodies – thereby preventing diseases at their roots.
Pranayama helps digestion. With the proper way of breathing, one’s metabolism and health condition will start to improve and constipation is relieved.
Pranayama develops our concentration and focus of mind. It can counteract the stress and relax the body much deeper than sleeping.
Pranayama offers a better self-control. Through concentration, one can better handle one’s temper and reactions. The mind functions clearly, avoiding arguments and wrong decisions.
Moreover, self-control also involves control over one’s physical body.
Pranayama leads us on a spiritual journey with a relaxed body and mind.
Researchers have documented the benefits of a regular practice of simple, deep breathing which include:
Reduced anxiety and depression.
Lower/stabilized blood pressure.
Increased energy levels.
A regular daily practice of deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being. Performing one of these breath techniques twice daily for only three to five minutes can produce long-term benefits. You can also use them any time you are feeling stressed or notice that your breathing has become constricted. By training your body with a regular practice of deep breathing, you will begin to breathe more effectively even without concentrating on it.
When the pranayamas are forced and done without proper preparation, it may have dangerous effects on the nervous system. Some of the advanced Pranayama should be learnt and practiced under the guidance of an expert.