In yoga, as life, taking a breath can be seen as something we do without thinking about it. Our yoga ancestors understood that breath life, and this is why pranayama or yogic breathing, which is sometimes referred to as the “heart of yoga,” is a component of yoga.
Pranayama is as important as asana in the yogic Eight Limbs, but it’s also significant. From ancient times onwards, yoga practitioners believed that pranayama had the ability to raise the mind and spirit. Modern scientific research supports what ancient wisdom has suggested for millennia:
Being aware of your breath can instantly influence your health and quality of life.
What is pranayama?
Pranayama, the yogic practice of breathing, commonly defined as “breathwork.” However, the yogic definition of pranayama is a bit more complex.
An understanding of the word’s origins is critical to understanding yoga. It named after the Indian Sanskrit word prana, which means “life force.” Indu Arora, in her book Yoga: Ancient Heritage, Tomorrow’s Vision, clarifies that littled unit of energy referred to as ana is “the smallest, smallest, indestructible unit of energy.”
The definition of pranayama is “to extend, expand, or draw out prana,” or “to control.” You arrive at the same conclusion with either definition:
pranayama refers to a type of breathing that involves managing or controlling the breath. According to yogis, this practice rejuvinates the physique and extends lifespan in addition to extending it.
The aim of the fourth limb of yoga is to gain mastery over the respiratory process, recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
Like yoga teacher Tony Briggs says, pranayama is an important aspect of the yogic tradition, but it is often difficult to understand.
“The pranayama practice aims to boost both bodily health and mental clarity, both of which are important steps on the path to self-knowledge and wholesome, authentic life,” he says.
If can try out various breathing techniques in one sitting by sitting or lying down quietly and experimenting. They may combine pranayama with your poses in order to regulate your breath with your motions. Also utilize pranayama in your day-to-day routines when you are engaged in physical activity or exertion. When you are stressed, or when you are suffering from health issues like insomnia.
There various pranayama techniques taught by various instructors. Six yoga traditions employ distinct pranayama techniques, including Integral Yoga (integrating movement with meditation), Kripalu (cultivating sensitivity and awareness), Ashtanga (unifying action, breath, and attention), Iyengar (developing precision, power, and subtlety), Viniyoga (creating a personal practice), and Kundalini (combining mudra, mantra, and breath). There may be similarities and differences between these and other yoga schools.
Benefits of Pranayama
Nadi Shodana, for instance, practised to synchronise the two hemispheres of the brain and purify the subtle energy channels of the body so that prana might flow more easily during pranayama practice.
Addition to synchronising the hemispheres of the brain and purifying the subtle energy channels, Viloma Pranayama said to have lowered the nervous system, energised the body, reduced stress and tension, lowered anxiety and fever, and enhanced lung capacity.
A growing body of evidence supports this time-honored wisdom. In 2018, a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that practicing mindful, slow breathing (10 breaths per minute or less) resulted “increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion.”
Engaging breath exercises might help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as ease minor fatigue, according to medical research. During pranayama, you might notice a modification in your energy levels, body temperature, or emotional state as you practice.
Pranayama for Mental Health
Pranayama can also reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by affecting the parasympathetic nervous system. (You may take slow, deep breaths when actively trying to relax in a stressful situation, a result of controlled breathing.)
In stressful times, we typically breathe too rapidly, according to Richard Rosen, author of Pranayama Physiology. Result is a buildup of oxygen in the bloodstream and a corresponding decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide, which causes an imbalance in the pH level of the blood.
The pH level of the blood changes due to a rise in carbon dioxide levels, vagus nerve secretes acetylcholine, which causes the heart rate to lower. These changes, addition to muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, lightheadedness, confusion, and anxiety, are known as respiratory alkalosis. By controlling, slowed breath raises carbon dioxide levels in the blood, pushing the pH level to a less alkaline state. “When the vagus nerve stimulated by the parasympathetic nervous system, releases acetylcholine, a substance that slows the heart rate.”
In his book, The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama, Rosen explains that ancient yogis believed that the body contained our vital energy. The body must be prepared for pranayama, especially for techniques that involve holding the breath or breathing forcefully or vigorously, such as Kapalabhati. It is suggested that asana practice enhances the body’s physical capabilities (and results) because it improves mental preparation. The yamas and niyamas assist in preparing for the yogic breathing techniques (and the ways in which they are taught).
In the majority of cases, ujjayi pranayama is part of asana practice. This technique, which involves constricting the throat to create resistance to the passage of air, used by gently pulling in and pulling out the breath on inhalation and exhalation, respectively, to create a significant, soothing sound—something like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out. It known as “ocean breath” because of its similarity to the sound of ocean waves.
Feel of Ujjayi, imagine fogging up a mirror and exhaling with an open mouth, hearing that “ocean” sound as the breath moves across your throat. When you accustomed to the sensation in your throat, practice inhaling and exhaling with a closed mouth.
You may use ujjayi breathing in asana training: When inhaling and exhaling in the course of practising postures sequences, you may use this technique.
If do this as a stand-alone practice as a part of your mediation programme if you sit quietly and concentrate on your breath. He says an Iyengar-style pranayama routine requires lying in Savasana (Corpse Pose). “Lie still, let your nerves become still, and simply observe the quality of your natural breath,” says Briggs.
Sama Vritti Pranayama (Box Breathing)
Sama Vritti Pranayama is another excellent technique for removing stress, lowering your body temperature, and concentrating.
- Sit with your back supported and feet on the floor in a comfortable position.
- Count to 4 as you inhale slowly through your nose. Feel the air filling your lungs.
- Hold your breath and slowly count to 4 again. Make sure to keep your airways open by avoiding inhaling or exhaling for 4 counts.
- Count to 4 as you exhale slowly.
- Hold the exhale for 4 more counts.
- For 4 minutes, repeat the process described above or breathe until you feel centered.
Dirgha pranayama is a type of breath control where you stop and start your breathing three times. It enhances your perception of your lung capacity and the shape of your torso.
- Lie flat on your back or propped up using bolsters, blocks, blankets, or a combination of these.
- Draw in a third of the lungs’ capacity before pausing for two to three seconds.
- During the third inhale, pause, and then inhale until the lungs are completely full.
- On the out-breath, repeat the pattern–taking three breaths out before repeating it on the in-breath.
Practice pausing only on the inhalation, then releasing the full breath on one exhalation, the reverse: take in one deep breath, then exhale in three parts.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
- By making Vishnu Mudra with the right index and middle finger folded in to meet the base of your thumb and the other fingers extended, you can activate your body’s relaxation response and regulate your nervous system by practising alternate-nostril breathing. You can do this pose in any comfortable asana. If you would like to support your right elbow, your left hand can be placed on your left thigh or in your lap.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb. Then inhale through the left nostril, closing it after a very brief pause, then exhale slowly through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the open right nostril and exhale through the closed left nostril three to five times. Then release the hand mudra and return to normal breathing.
Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath)
Kapalabhati, also known as Skull Brightener, consists of short, explosive exhales followed by slightly longer, passive inhales. When you inhale, you release a contraction that draws air back into the lungs. This technique performed in a seated position or a reclined position, with your fingers on your belly.
- Focus on your lower belly. If necessary, cup one hand lightly in the other and press it gently against your lower belly. (With practice you will have greater abdominal control and hands may not be necessary.)
- Now quickly contract your lower belly, pushing a burst of air out of your lungs. Then quickly release the contraction (or your hands), so the belly “rebounds” to suck air into your lungs. Pace yourself slowly at first.
- Perform eight to 10 repetitions at about one exhale-inhale cycle every second or two. As you become more proficient at contracting/relaxing your lower belly, you may increase your pace to two exhale-inhale cycles every second. Imagine the exhale sweeping out or “brightening” the inner lining of your skull.
- Start with doing 25 to 30 cycles. Gradually increase the number of cycles you do each session to 100 or more.
Rosen says kapalabhati is an earlier phase of Bhastrika or Bellows Breath training.