Why Practice Pranayama?
Pranayama is the ancient art of breathing practice. The wise Yogi’s understood, thousands of years ago, the importance of the connection between breath, body, mind and soul. They found a key to access deep meditation and higher consciousness, that key was the control of the breath; or Pranayama.
What is Pranayama?
Prana in Sanskrit means life force or vital principle. Ayama in Sanskrit means to extend or draw out.
When joined as Pranayama these words, literally, represent the awakening or drawing out of the vital life force. Or in simple terms the control of the breath.
When you are able to breathe fully or master the breath you are able to access deeper levels of awareness and control over the body and mind. That is why the yogi’s saw the breath as an access point to take their yoga practice deeper.
Pranayama can come in simple forms such as simple breath awareness exercises or learning to breathe with a full lung breath. These are great techniques that anyone can practice, yogi or not, to help them lead a more relaxed and mindful life.
Traditionally Pranayama is taught beginning with simple techniques and is built up over time and always with a Knowledgeable Guru/Teacher guiding the way. Over time, these Pranayama breathing techniques become more complex requiring more mental and physical control.
Devoted and dedicated yogi’s who have mastered the practice pranayama are performing feats that would seem near impossible even in this modern day.
What are the benefits of Pranayama?
The term Pranayama, as you have found out, is breath control. This control of the breath can be very beneficial to everyone for many different reasons here are just a few:
- Reduces stress
- Reduces anxiety and depression
- Lowers/stabilizes blood pressure
- Increased energy levels
- Muscle relaxation
- Clear mind, clear decision making skills
What is the Science behind the theory of Pranayama?
Now, if you imagine being in a stressful situation where you feel out of control or scared.
What do you notice about the breath?
It is the breath that creates the first instinctual reaction to a difficult situation. The breath becomes short, shallow and the feeling of anxiety or unease creeps in. When the breath has this effect on the body the nervous system reacts sending these ‘danger’ signals so that the body moves into fight or flight mode and reacts to the situation. This is a necessary reaction that results in ultimately removing you out of the way of the threat and keeping you alert and safe. In the right place this is an important and fundamentally useful human reaction.
So, it makes sense that by becoming aware or mindful of the breath you are able to control the mind and its responses to situations.
For certain the body will want to react, but by having breath control you are able to calm the body and mind and think rationally and clearly.
To take this theory further if we think in a yoga context. If a yogi wants to master the body and mind to attain higher consciousness then they must also master breath control.
By simply doing yoga postures the mind may only be distracted for the short term. With a control of the breath the yogi can move deeper into both the physical postures and attain a meditative state of mind. When a yoga practitioner has attained this state of mind and is able to retain it. They are able to access that higher consciousness. Even by just walking down the street they are in full awareness and every decision, action and reaction will be a result of seeing fully, clearly and in harmony with their higher conscious and purpose.
What are the parts of pranayama practice?
Whilst practicing pranayama the breath should be skillfully inhaled, exhaled and retained.
Pranayama teaches you the fine art of changing the depth, rate and pattern of breathing in many different ways.
The three parts of Pranayama are:
- Puraka- Inhalation
- Rechaka- Exhalation
- Kumbhaka- Retention of the breath
This is a very simplistic explanation but it will give you the idea.
A short Pranayama practice to get you started:
There are many different types of Pranayama techniques having various benefits and contraindications. Most are best practiced with a qualified Teacher.
This is a short and simple Pranayama/mindful breathing practice that is suitable for anyone and can be practiced at home. Having said this if you have any condition please check with a medical professional before beginning any breathing practice.
The full Yogi breath:
- Sit or lie down on your back in a comfortable position.
- Close the eyes and start to bring your attention onto the breath- watch how your natural breath is moving.
- Now inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
- Start to inhale into your lower belly, feel the belly start to rise.
- Now continue inhaling into the lower ribs
- Now the upper chest
- Hold the breath in for a count of 1
- Then start to exhale through the nose
- Exhaling first from the lower abdomen
- Exhaling from the lower ribs
- Exhaling from the upper chest
- Hold the exhale out for a count of 1
- And repeat the exercise until it feels natural.
By breathing in this way we hope to exercise the diaphragm and oxygenate the lungs, also resulting in a sense of calm, relaxation and clarity.
For instruction on more complex Pranayama techniques check out our Mahi yoga teacher trainings.
“The mind is the king of the senses but the breath is the king of the mind.” by BKS Iyengar