‘Breathing is the physical part of thinking and thinking is the psychological part of breathing.” – Ayurveda
Pranayama is a part of Yoga system that teaches you the art of extending your breath in many different ways. When practicing pranayama the breath should be skillfully inhaled, exhaled and retained. It teaches you to change the depth, rate and pattern of breathing.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which literally translates into “extension of the prana or breath”. ‘Prana’ means life-force and it is the life-force or vital energy that pervades the body. Prana is the link between mind and consciousness. The physical manifestation of “prana’ is breath and ”ayama” means to extent or draw out the breath.
When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still.” – Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Breathing is vital for our survival as it is the only way we can send oxygen inside our body and into our organs. We can live for months without consuming food and days without water, however we can only survive a few minutes without breathing. When you learn the breathing techniques it will positively affect your actions and thoughts. Every thought we have changes the rhythm of our breath. When we are happy breathing is rhythmic and when we are stressed breathing is irregular and interrupted. Mastering the art of breathing is a crucial step towards self-healing and survival.
Best time to practice:
Pranayama or breathing exercise can be a great way to start your day. Early morning is the best time to practice pranayama, especially outside where you can find fresh air. It is recommended to do breathing exercises on an empty stomach. There are some contraindications to these breathing exercises that I will discuss when I explain the pranayama’s.
Benefits of Pranayama:
- Pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorder.
- Pranayama improves the autonomic functions.
- It helps relieving the symptoms of asthma.
- It reduces the signs of oxidative stress in the body.
- Practicing pranayama everyday can assist in steady mind, strong will power and sound judgement.
- Regular pranayama can extend life and enhance ones perception of life.
- Number of studies show that pranayama causes change in the cardio respiratory system including lowering of blood pressure
- Certain pranayama’s are excellent for weight loss.
Getting ready for Pranayama:
To do pranayama sit facing east or north in a comfortable cross legged position on a yoga mat. Make sure your head, neck and chest are in a straight line and keep your spine stretched. Pranayama should not be performed within an hour of eating, bathing or sexual activity without at least an hour gap.
Who should not be doing Pranayama?
Pranayama should be practiced with care and it is better to do advanced pranayama with a teacher’s guidance.
- Pranayama is not recommended during menstruation, and pregnancy.
- Anyone with any form of heart condition, particularly if they have a recent history of heart attack. People with low blood pressure must practice pranayama under the guidance of a teacher or Ayurvedic Doctor.
- Avoid if you have fever, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
- Anyone going through radiation or chemo therapy.
- Not recommended for anyone going through psychological condition, sadness, grief, trauma, anger, anxiety, depression or suicidal feelings.
Basic Pranayama practice:
Before doing Pranayama’s such as Bhastrika, or bellows breath, practice purification of nervous system which is called Nadi Shodhona in sanskrit. It is recommended to start Pranayama practice with “alternate nostril breathing” and “breath awareness.”
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma):
This pranayama is breathing through alternate nostrils of the nose. It is otherwise known as Purification of the Nervous System or Nadi Shodhona Pranayama. It is very calming and purifying.
Position: Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Or sit cross legged on the floor.
Repetitions: Begin 10 rounds with breathing through the left nostril and 10 rounds breathing with the right.
Steps to practice Anuloma Viloma
Alternate nostrils are closed, generally by using the right hand’s thumb, ring and little finger. The thumb is used for closing the right nostril and the ring and little fingers are used to close the left nostril. The mouth is closed, and is not used for breathing. No sound should be produced while inhaling or exhaling.
The cycle of practice is:
- Begin by focusing your attention on your breathing for a minute. Observe the flow of breath in both nostrils.
- Form the Pranayama Mudra on your right hand and raise your hand. (See picture)
- Close the right nostril is closed with the right hand thumb and inhale deeply through the left nostril.
- After inhaling, close the left nostril with ring and pinky finger and exhale through the right nostril.
- After exhaling through the right nostril and inhale through the same nostril.
- Close the right nostril after inhaling and exhale through the left.
To summarize in this round you will – inhale left – exhale right – inhale right – exhale left. After 10 rounds return the hand to the knee and form a “gyan mudra”. Then concentrate for one minute on normal breathing.
- Position the left hand in Pranayama Mudra.
- Repeat the process beginning with the right nostril inhalation.
- Now inhale right – exhale left – inhale left – exhale right.
After 10 rounds return the hand to the knee and concentrate for one minute on normal breathing and the rhythm of the heartbeat.
Benefits of Anulom Viloma:
- With this pranayama you will instantly experience peace and blissfulness. As though you were transported into a new world.
- It is said in the yoga science this pranayama cleanses 72,000 nadis or channels in the body.
- It helps purify the blood and the respiratory system.
- The deeper breathing enriches the blood with oxygen. As a matter of fact large amount of oxygen goes to the brain, lungs, heart, and capillaries.
- It balances and calms our nervous system so when stressed this is extremely beneficial.
- It helps relieve anxiety, nervousness and headaches.
- This pranayama helps to strengthen the respiratory system.