What is Pranayama? Breathe for Health, Energy and Peace
Updated: May 18
Pranayama is a practice of controlling the breath in yoga, which is considered essential for both physical and mental well-being. It is believed to help regulate the body's energy, improve respiratory function, and promote relaxation. Pranayama is often included as a part of a yoga practice and is considered to be one of the eight limbs of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga. It is also used in meditation and other spiritual practices to help focus the mind and cultivate a sense of inner peace. This type of breathwork has its origins in ancient India. The earliest references to pranayama can be found in the Upanishads, which are texts that date back to around 800 BCE. The practice was further developed and codified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which were written around 400 CE. Pranayama is believed to help purify the body and mind, improve physical health, and lead to a state of spiritual enlightenment.
The word "pranayama" is composed of two words: "prana," which means "life force" or "energy," and "ayama," which means "control" or "regulation." Pranayama is believed to regulate the flow of prana in the body, which in turn can have various physical and mental benefits. It is thought to help improve lung function, increase oxygenation of the body and brain, and reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, pranayama is said to have a positive impact on the nervous system so it may help lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.
Here are some basic steps to get started with pranayama:
1. Find a comfortable seated position on the floor or in a chair. Keep your spine straight and your shoulders relaxed. 2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. 3. Begin with the basic technique of deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly, making sure that your belly rises and falls with each breath. 4. Once you have mastered the basic technique of deep breathing, you can move on to more advanced techniques.
These are some of the other practices to look into with a qualified teacher:
Also known as "victorious breath," this technique involves inhaling and exhaling through the nose while partially constricting the glottis, creating a soft, ocean-like sound. If you tightly close your lips and try to the letter ‘s’ you will place your tongue in the correct position to create the sound. Keep the lips closed on both the inhale and exhale. It helps to regulate the breath, calm the mind, and improve focus.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Also known as "alternate nostril breathing," this technique involves alternately blocking and opening each nostril while inhaling and exhaling. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale deeply through your left nostril. Then close your left nostril with your right index finger and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril and exhale through your left. It helps to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and promote a sense of peace and calm.
Also known as "skull shining breath," this technique involves rapid, forceful exhalations followed by passive inhalations. Always done through the nostrils only, you want to aggressively pump the abdomen as you exhale.The inhale is a reflexive action occurring on its own. It helps to detoxify the lungs, energize the body, and improve concentration.
Also known as "bee breath," this technique involves making a humming sound while exhaling through the nose. It helps to calm the mind, reduce stress, and improve sleep. It may also help to activate and tone the vagus nerve.
Anulom Vilom Pranayama
Also known as "nostril cleaning breath," this technique involves inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other. It helps to purify the nadis (energy channels) and balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Also known as "bellows breath," in which the breath is rapidly inhaled and exhaled through the nose while pumping the belly. This technique is forceful and can cause hyperventilation if not done correctly. Always consult a qualified practitioner to learn any of these techniques.