Breathing is the physical part of thinking and thinking is the psychological part of breathing.” – Ayurveda
Pranayama is a part of the Yoga system that teaches you the art of extending your breath in many different ways. When practising 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 that 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. Hence, the physical manifestation of “prana’ is breath and ”Ayama” means to the 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 bodies 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. Thus, mastering the art of breathing is a crucial step toward 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 pranayamas.
Benefits of Pranayama:
- Pranayama techniques are beneficial in treating a range of stress-related disorders.
- Pranayama improves autonomic functions.
- It helps relieve the symptoms of asthma.
- It reduces the signs of oxidative stress in the body.
- Practising pranayama every day can assist in a steady mind, strong willpower and sound judgement.
- Regular pranayama can extend life and enhance one’s perception of life.
- A number of studies show that pranayama causes changes in the cardiorespiratory system including lowering of blood pressure.
- Certain pranayamas 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 area are in a straight line and keep your spine stretched. Pranayama should not be performed within an hour of eating, bathing or sexual activity.
Who should not be doing Pranayama?
Pranayama should be practised 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 a 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 chemotherapy.
- Not recommended for anyone going through the psychological condition, sadness, grief, trauma, anger, anxiety, depression or suicidal feelings.
Basic Pranayama practice:
Before doing Pranayamas such as Bhastrika, or bellows breath, practice purification of the nervous system which is called Nadi Shodhona in Sanskrit. One should start Pranayama practice with “alternate nostril breathing” and “breath awareness.”
Additional Read: 7 Health Tips for Healthy Life
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma):
This pranayama is breathing through alternate nostrils of the nose. It is the 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 of breathing through the left nostril and 10 rounds of breathing with the right.
Steps to practice Anuloma Viloma
Close the alternate nostrils, generally by using the right hand’s thumb, ring and little finger. Use the thumb for closing the right nostril and the ring and little fingers to close the left nostril. Close the mouth and do not breathe through it. Avoid producing sound 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. pranayama_fingers01
Form the Pranayama Mudra on your right hand and raise your hand. (See picture)
Close the right nostril with the right-hand thumb and inhale deeply through the left nostril.
After inhaling, close the left nostril with the ring and pinky finger and exhale through the right nostril.
After exhaling through the right nostril and inhaling 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.
Mrigi Mudra Pranayama
Benefits of Anulom Viloma:
With this pranayama, you will instantly experience peace and blissfulness. As though you were transported into a new world.
According to yoga science, this pranayama cleanses 72,000 nadis or channels in the body.
It helps purify the blood and the respiratory system.
Deeper breathing enriches the blood with oxygen. As a matter of fact, a 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.
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