Did you know that Pranayama doesn't just relieve stress but also makes you stronger?
How much thought do you give to each breath that you take? Breathing is an involuntary function. Most of the time, you'll breathe without even thinking about it, which is both a good and bad thing. It's good because you don't have to remind yourself to take a breath. It's terrible because your breathing is affected by stress and strain.
When we're relaxed, we naturally breathe more deeply. When we're stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow. It's a biological imperative based on the old fight or flight response.
When you need to get away from danger or fight, you need an increased amount of oxygen. As a result, you take many short and shallow breaths. The problem is that when you're under stress, this shallow breathing becomes the habit rather than the exception.
It's not going to kill you, but it can impact your wellness over time. Your body is still getting the oxygen that it needs, but not quite as much as you would get with deeper breathing. The lungs are also never fully emptied, so they become less effective at removing toxins.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama (life force) is a somewhat ancient concept, roughly translating to the techniques of breath. However, in Sanskrit, the word has a deeper meaning. It means the manifestation or expansion of energy.
In ancient teachings, prana is the energy of the universe; the power that made it possible for the world to come into being. This energy flows through every living creature on the planet. So, while we use the word "Pranayama" to refer to breathing, it is a lot more than just that.
The "breath of life" can help to rebalance the subtle energies of the body, tone the cardiovascular system, and support us in regaining our mental and spiritual balance.
When we say pranayama, we are referring to the rebalancing of energies through breathing.
Is There One Type of Prana?
There are five major pranas and five minor pranas. The major pranas are:
- Udana: This is the energy that controls your body, from the larynx up. This energy is considered more spiritual in nature, and it oversees how we use our extra-sensory perception.
- Prana: This is the energy that covers the area between the heart and larynx, and is most often worked on during yoga practice. It governs your respiratory system, breath, and speech.
- Samana: This energy covers the area from the navel to the heart. It rules your digestive system. If you have problems with digestion, it is an indication that this energy is out of balance.
- Apana: This runs from the navel to your feet. This energy governs your bladder, colon, genitals, rectum and renal system. If you have problems in any of these areas, like frequent bladder infections, your Apana is out of balance.
- Vyana: This energy relates to the whole body. It is what regulates the contraction and relaxation of your muscles. It also oversees your joints and affects how they move. If you suffer from rheumatism or arthritis, this energy could need attention.
What is the Goal of Pranayama?
Yogic breathing involves more than just breathing in deeply. Restoring balance is extremely important, and not only involves the breath taken in through the mouth but also how you breathe through your nostrils.
Ancient teachings refer to the left nostril as Ida and the right as Pingala. Yogic breathing aims to balance the two and remove blockages in the Sushumna Nadi. By changing the way you breathe, you can also influence your energy levels.
Nadis in the body refer to energy channels. There are thousands of these channels in the body, but the Sushumna is one of only six considered most important. Blockages mean that energy cannot flow as it should. Imbalances in these systems lead to poor health. This is when the science of breath and these breathing techniques comes in handy.
What Does All That Have to Do with Making Me Stronger?
Most of us understand that deep breathing can assist with relaxation. You were probably taught as a child to take a deep breath and count to ten to help you calm down. However, proper breathing is a lot more powerful than that.
By ensuring that the Sushumna is unblocked, you can raise your Kundalini energy more efficiently. This energy emanates from the root chakra and is extremely powerful. As it rises through your body, it helps to unblock every chakra along the way.
Once the energies in the body can flow correctly, we become more able to resist disease and better equipped to improve our sense of well-being. Our bodies become able to heal themselves, and we grow stronger both physically and mentally.
Does this Sound a Bit “New Age” for You?
Yoga has only recently become popular in the western world, but that doesn’t mean that it’s “new age.” It is an ancient belief system practiced over millennia. Yogis back then and now are branded as mystics, having higher knowledge.
However, while there may be a spiritual element in some yoga teachings, it turns out that the benefits are palpable and can be measured scientifically.
According to a recent study conducted at the BGS Global Institute of Medical Sciences in India, you can start seeing the benefits of yogic breathing in as little as four weeks. The study measured the physical impact of breathing exercises involving bhastrika, ujjayi, sheetali, analuma viloma (nadi shodhana), and kapalabhathi pranayama).
They found that over four weeks, participants experienced a significant decrease in high blood pressure and their resting heart rate. So, if you’re worried about your cardiovascular health, yoga is an excellent solution.
A lower resting heart rate is indicative of a more efficient cardiovascular system. A lower heart rate means that it doesn't have to work as hard to circulate the blood around the body. Lower blood pressure means that the veins are also under less strain. Yoga, therefore, helps to tone your cardiovascular system.
In this study, it was noticed that there was a significant decrease in resting heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and a very significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure post-short-term pranayama practices. The results were similar to the previous studies done on the effect of pranayamas on the autonomic nervous system, thus making the findings more concrete.
The study also found that participants showed improvements in endurance and hand grip strength. Hence, it can be concluded that even a short-term practice of pranayamas has positive effects on the mental and physical well-being of students. Thus, incorporation of these practices in a daily curriculum can significantly influence beneficial effects on students and help them by elevating their physical strength and cardiovascular functioning by having an effect on the autonomic functions of the body.
So, just changing your breathing can make you calmer and stronger at the same time.
Types of Pranayama Exercises
There are several different pranayama exercises that you can learn. Which you perform depends on what you want to achieve. Here are some of the more straightforward examples of pranayama breathing exercises that are excellent for beginners. But with no prior knowledge of yoga breathing. Learn from authorized pranayama teacher. Yogateket offers deeper learning in the pranayama practice with a wide range of online yoga videos you can move toward healthier living using pranayama technique.
If you want to start with a simple exercise, it doesn’t get much easier than this. This type is designed to improve your physical and mental endurance and help you to enjoy the feeling of stillness.
The key here is to practice breathing as naturally as possible, without causing yourself any distress. This is accomplished by breathing in deeply and then pausing to hold the breath. You want this to be a comfortable process, so the purpose is to keep your breath in for as long as is comfortable.
The idea is to create a moment of stillness for yourself. So, inhale, and hold the breath. While holding it, notice how still you feel when you're not breathing. Exhale and repeat. Do this for up to five minutes.
Bhramari Pranayama (Humming bee breath)
If you’re completely stressed out, this is the type of exercise that you want to do. It is best practiced alone because you’re going to be making a fair amount of noise. If you’re at the office and need to relax, it might be better to do the previous exercise.
Instead of the stillness found in Sahita Pranayama, you want to create a noise similar to a humming bee hence the name humming bee breath. The louder the sound, the louder the vibrations you will produce. This is essential in building a balance between your mind and body.
Breathe in deeply using both nostrils. Breathe out through the mouth and make a buzzing sound while doing so. Repeat for up to five minutes.
Dirga pranayama can also be called the three-part breath. It is a simple one for beginners and can be done while lying in bed in the morning or before going to sleep. This exercise focuses on breathing more deeply.
The deeper breathing will help to calm the mind and relax the muscles.
Simply inhale deeply. As you breathe in, notice the air moving from the diaphragm and filling your abdomen, feeling the air entering your lungs and your chest lifting.
Repeat three to five times to start. Over time, you can choose to increase the number of repetitions.
Simhasana is also known as Lion's Breath. Be prepared; you might feel a little silly at first. Do continue though, as this is excellent preparation for the more advanced exercises. It will also help to relieve tension and get rid of inhibitions.
Simhasana or Lion’s Breath helps to strengthen the muscles in the throat in preparation for more advanced pranayama practices.
You can adopt any pose you like for this one, but it's most comfortable from a kneeling position. Center your hips comfortably and rest your hands with the palms facing the floor.
Inhale as deeply as possible through both nostrils. When you exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can, and stick out your tongue. Make sure that your eyes are also open as wide as possible. You want to make a “Ha” sound as you exhale.
Repeat two or three times.
Breathing exercises might not seem complicated, but they are just as important as adopting the proper poses in yoga. If you do nothing else, practice your breathing every day. Pranayama can help to condition the cardiovascular system, and relax your mind, and help you focus.
With just a few simple breathing exercises, you'll feel stronger and healthier.
Work cited: Chail R, Anjusha IB. Effect of the short-term practice of pranayama on the autonomic functions in 1st-year MBBS students. Natl J Physiol Pharm Pharmacol 2019;9(2):150-154.