Since ancient times it is believed that if you have a good connection and control over your breath, you are better attuned with your mental, emotional, and physical self. If you can master your breath, you will master your mind too. That is where Pranayama came into being. What is Pranayama? Ancient yogis developed a collection of breathing exercises to connect your mind and body, which is known as Pranayama.
The Sanskrit word Pranayama means ‘regulating your life forces’.The basic pranayama steps include inhalations, exhalations, and sometimes involve breath retention too. These techniques cultivate, control, and modify the quality, amount, flow, and direction of the vital energy of your body: breath.
To bring your body and mind to focus there are different Pranayama types. These are:
- Dirga Pranayama or Three-part breath: This is one of the best pranayama techniques for beginners. This pranayama involves completing the breath in three parts and teaches the body to efficiently empty and fill the lungs.
- Nadi Shodhana: This breathing technique includes alternate nostril breathing.
- Ujjayi Pranayama: This pranayama asana is like mimicking the sound of ocean waves. While you inhale and exhale, you try to choke up your throat that produces a sound like the ocean waves.
- Kapalabhati Pranayama This is an advanced version of breathing exercises that makes you lightheaded if done correctly.
- Shitali Pranayama: As the name says, this pranayama exercise is used to cool you down. In this, you inhale through your mouth and exhale through your nose always.
- Viloma Pranayama: It is divided into two parts namely: Paused Inhalation and Paused Exhalation. In Paused Inhalation, you continuously inhale for 2 to 3 seconds and then pause for 2 seconds and then again inhale. You continue this technique until your lungs are full. While in paused exhalation you do the complete opposite of this.
- Anuloma Pranayama: This technique involves alternate nostril breathing. Inhaling and exhaling are done via one nostril but the other nostril is not completely blocked. It is kept partially open.
- Bhramri Pranayama: This is one of the very soothing breathing practices. It involves closing your eyes with fingers and ears with your thumbs. While you close them, you take a deep breath and then exhale and chant OM simultaneously.
- Bhastrika Pranayama: This helps in retaining the warmth of your body. In this pranayama, you inhale and exhale at a very fast pace. This is good, especially in the winter months.
- Sheetli Pranayama: In this breathing exercise, you begin by inhaling through your mouth and keep your tongue rolled. Next, tilt the chin forward and pause your breath for a while. Then exhale via nostrils. This keeps you cool and is great to practice in hotter months.
- Moorchha Pranayama: This is an advanced level of pranayama wherein you keep on exhaling without inhaling. Due to this the level of carbon dioxide increases in your lungs and makes you unconscious after a point. You slowly become conscious when you start inhaling in the sleep automatically.
- Palawani Pranayama: This is practiced by very experienced yogis only. In this, you work on your breath so that it allows you to remain afloat in the water.
These were some well-known and widely practiced pranayama techniques. Next, let us discuss what is pranayama yoga? People think yoga only involves physical exercise. But it is not so. It includes eight forms of practice in daily life. These are:
- Truth and Non-violence or Yama.
- Five Healthy Habits or Niyam.
- Exercise or Asana.
- Breathing Exercises or Pranayama.
- Withdrawl or Pratyahara.
- Concentration on things or Dharana.
- Meditation or Dhyana.
- Joining consciousness with the meditation object or Samadhi.
So yoga is not limited to just asanas but it is more of a lifestyle than a workout. And pranayama yoga is a part of Ashtanga yoga. The outer layers of yoga are Pranayama and Asana. While the inner layers being Dhyana, Samadhi, and Dharana. Pranayama Meditation is the stepping stone towards clearing consciousness. Enough preaching about pranayama, let us now hop on to the regular 30 mins pranayama benefits.
Benefits of Pranayama
We, humans, tend to know the benefits of something before practicing it in daily life. So here are some scientifically proven pranayama benefits that will help you heal and attain a higher state of awareness:
- Reduces Stress Level
Pranayama helps in calming the nervous system and hence improves your response to stress. Many studies have shown that people who practiced pranayama regularly were less anxious before an exam. The authors of these studies claim that this is because of the increased oxygen uptake while practicing pranayama.
- Increases mindfulness
When you do pranayama, you become aware of breathing. During this time you also put much focus in the present moment and this is called mindfulness. According to a study, students who practiced pranayama daily had a higher level of mindfulness. These students were more emotionally stable too.
The researchers have associated this with high oxygen concentration and removal of carbon dioxide due to pranayama. This increases oxygen concentration and in turn, fuels brain cells.
- Improvement in sleep quality
Another amazing pranayama yoga benefits are, it gives you quality sleep. The first reason is the reduced stress level. The second reason is, Bhramri pranayama when practiced daily slows down breathing and heart rate considerably. This calms down your body. People have also seen improvement in disorders like daytime sleepiness and snoring after making pranayama a part of their daily lives.
- Improved lung function
By practicing breathing exercises you take control of your breath. You inhale, exhale, and sometimes retain your breath. This provides strength to your lungs. Pranayama has proved to provide relief in conditions like allergic bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.
- Reduction in high blood pressure
High blood pressure may lead to serious health issues like heart stroke and disease. Stress is the major reason behind high BP. When you focus on breathing, it calms down the nervous system. This reduces the stress response and in turn, minimizes the risk of developing hypertension and heart diseases.
- Reduces cigarette cravings
Pranayama or yogic breathing has been used as rehabilitation for people who crave cigarettes. Practicing 10-15 minutes of pranayama decreases cigarette cravings considerably.
- Boosts cognitive function
A study found that practicing pranayama for 12 weeks improves cognitive flexibility, working memory, and reasoning skills. Fast pranayama has proved to improve sensory-motor performance and auditory memory.
All of this improvement is associated with reduced stress levels due to practicing pranayama. The increased uptake of oxygen energizes the brain cells and contributes to improved cognitive ability.
- Aids weight loss
People also practice yogic breathing or pranayama for weight loss. Especially if you practice Kapalbhati early morning, on an empty stomach, it helps in weight loss. It relaxes your body, detoxifies it, and enriches it too!
Best time to practice Pranayama
The time of the day you practice yoga pranayama depends on the way you want your mind, body, and soul to feel after it. The preferable timings include:
- Early morning near sunrise-time is the most ideal time for it.
- You can also practice it in the evening near sunset time. Calming and slow breathing pranayamas turn out best in the evenings.
Some Pranayama Tips
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Sit comfortably.
- Perform it in a well-ventilated, clean room that is free from distractions.
- Practice it in the same place every day.
- Do not sit under a fan or AC.
- Slow and steady practice will make you perfect. For efficient learning watch pranayama videos online.
Precautions while doing Pranayama
- If you suffer from any respiratory illness, consult a doctor before starting pranayama.
- Pregnant women should practice pranayama with the utmost care and under supervision.
- If you have an illness that aggravates due to heat, avoid pranayama asanas that provide warmth like Bhastrika and Kapalbhati.
- In wintertime avoid Shitali pranayama if your health is affected by the cold conditions.
- If pranayama makes you feel nauseous or dizzy, stop the practice right away.
The best way to learn pranayama for beginners is to learn it from an experienced yoga trainer.