If you thought some stretches on a mat are enough for you to call yourself a yoga enthusiast, think again. The fourth limb of the eight-limb yoga path is pranayama or breathing exercises. In fact, many gurus rank it higher than the yoga poses (or yoga asanas). It can even take you closer to your god, process that.
Did you know that 50% of the world breathes through their mouths?
Pranayama is the yogic practice of breathing the right way in a controlled manner to revitalise life energies, ensuring a long and healthy life. It keeps every cell of the body excellently oxygenated.
“Breathing is the most basic function to keep us alive and kicking. Yet, it is the most taken-for-granted act. We often go through life without even understanding the way we breathe. Besides, in yoga, rhythmic breathing — exhalation and inhalation — is what completes the postures. And there is ample scientific evidence that it is good for you,” says Arunima Singhdeo, founder of Shvasa and a yogi.
Did you know we breathe 22,000 times every single day!
Pranayama is a way to breathe right. Practising pranayama daily makes the mind agile, lungs stronger, skin radiant, immunity stronger and relaxes the system. Oh! And definitely ensures quality sleep, a calmer and happy. Therefore, at Shvasa, we empower you with the knowledge and the techniques to do it right!
What is Pranayama?
Have you noticed how your breathing rhythm changes when you are angry, hungry, scared, or relaxed? But what if you could control your breathing and control how your system reacts to all the stimuli! Pranayama is that powerful art and science that lets you manage your reactions and control your life.
Pranayama comprises two words — ‘prana’ and ‘ayama’. Prana is ‘life energies’, and ayama means ‘to gain control’. In simple words, pranayama is a way to control your breath, resulting in an expansion of life force and vital energies. Indian sage Patanjali, an authority on everything yoga as we know it today, refers to pranayama as a means of attaining a higher life state.
What are the Benefits of Pranayama?
As you have already understood, there is a myriad of benefits associated with pranayama. Scientific findings back it.
- Foremost, practising pranayama improves sleep quality. When we indulge in conscious breathing, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the body’s rest, relaxation and digestion response. A clinical study found out that just five minutes of bhastrika pranayama stimulated the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing down systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly and the heart rate, too. Just five minutes of pranayama lowered the heart rate and blood pressure. It guaranteed a relaxed state and ensured quality sleep. By the way, sleep deprivation can also make you fat, did you know?
- Starting from the base of the brain all the way to the abdomen runs a vital nerve called the vagus. When the vagus is stimulated, the body receives the message to relax and destress. Improving vagal tone ensures long-term improvements in mood, well-being, resilience, lower anxiety levels, and a heightened sense of joy and connectedness.
- It can also do wonders for immunity. Regular practice helps the body flush out toxins and improves lung capacity, which means your immunity gets a significant boost.
- In 2019, a study found out what the yogis have been experiencing for ages — it makes lungs stronger. While most people use only 10% of their lungs, a yogi can take it up to 100% lung capacity. Within a few weeks, all the five lobes develop strength and work for the body. Pranayama keeps the respiratory system healthy. Meaning, reducing dependency on those asthma pumps if you practice pranayama regularly. What more? Pneumonia, bronchitis, allergies and other such bronchial diseases will avoid you, really.
- A 2011 study concluded that a mere five minutes of sukha pranayama reduced hypertension in patients.
- In 2014, a British study found that pranayama, asanas and meditation prevent and improve Alzheimer symptoms.
- It is known to keep Parkinson’s disease at bay as it improves cognitive functions, says the science too. A study conducted in 2013 confirms this.
- It ensures every cell of the body receives optimum oxygen. Further, well-oxygenated blood makes certain that the body functions at its best level. This enables the brain to stay agile, and the grey cells age late. You remain mindful and your perky self for longer.
- A healthy mind also ensures your focus grows sharper, concentration improves, clarity enhances, and you make excellent decisions.
What are Different Variations in Pranayama?
While an essential inhalation and exhalation alternated with breath-hold benefits the practitioner, various variations become part of the practice as one advance. Some advanced variations taught at Shavsa are:
- Variation of breath
- Variation of thought
- Variation of posture
- Kundalini variation
Which Posture to Follow for Pranayama?
The basic posture is to sit crossed-leg, keeping the spine straight, and head, neck and shoulders aligned. This helps in the obstruct-free flow of energy, opens the chest and helps focus better. You could sit on a mat or a cushion for comfort. If needed, you can sit on a chair, maintaining a straight back and neck, head and shoulder alignment.
At Shvasa, we handhold you towards holistic pranayama, ensuring the postures are observed correctly to benefit from the practice. Meanwhile, here are three basic poses:
- Accomplished Pose (Siddhasana): Helps lengthen the spine, expands hips movement, shoulders and chest, ideal for meditation, channels energy. Sit crossed-leg.
- Easy Pose (Sukhasana): For stronger back and flexible hip joints; grounded-ness, unlock hips, and open ankle joints. Bend your leg and place it under the opposite thigh. Now, place the other leg under the folded leg. Keep back straight; head, necks and shoulders aligned.
- Lotus Position (Padmasana): A basic pose, excellent for meditation, breathing and grounding; works on hips, knees and ankles; strengthens pelvic muscles; reduces hypertension. Connects mind, body and soul. Sit cross-legged, placing each foot on the other. Keep the back straight.
What are Different Types Pranayama?
As is evident by now, pranayama is a scientific practise that tunes the body to nature within and nature outside. At Shvasa, utmost care is observed while recommending the type of pranayama to ensure it supports the three doshas and prakriti of the body and the environmental conditions. Some bring out the heat, some cooldown, some bring about a balance in the right and left anatomy (think ha and tha, yin and yang).
At Shvasa, we equip you to identify and practice what suits your body, mind and soul. Of the many, here are some to begin with:
Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama): As the name suggests, it involves breathing into three different parts of the abdomen. Lay down on your back. Bend your knees or leave the legs outstretched. Breathe into your belly as it swells like a balloon. Then, draw more air to fill the rib cage. Now, fill your chest. Exhale, releasing air from your chest first, then the rib cage, and then, belly. It makes the lungs more robust and healthier.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana): Both nostrils affect various parts of the nervous system; this exercise helps tap that aspect. Sit cross-legged. Exhale and cover your right nostril with your right hand. Inhale with your left nostril and close it with your fingers. Now, exhale with your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril. Repeat.
Cooling Breath (Shitali Pranayama): In summer, the body gets affected by the season’s integral elements — hot, oily, sharp. This causes inflammation, digestive issues, and anger. The Cooling Breath pranayama has a calming effect. Sit cross-legged, stick tongue out, making O shape. Inhale through your mouth, hold your breath, and get into the chin lock position. Exhale through your nostrils. Repeat.
Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama): Also known as victorious breathing, it derives its name from the fact that the practitioner creates the sound of the ocean waves. Breathe through your mouth. Next, constrict the back of your throat and close your mouth. Breathe through your nose; take long and smooth breaths.
Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama): Sounds like a humming bee, of course! Sit in a comfortable position, close your ears and eyes with your fingers and thumbs. Inhale and then exhale while humming like a bee.
Bellows Breath (Bhastrika Pranayama): Sit in the Lotus pose. Inhale through nostrils and exhale hard, focusing on the diaphragm. Inhale and exhale about 10 times. Now, inhale and hold your breath. Exhale slowly. Since it leads to blood gushing through the digestive organs, it affects the stomach, liver, spleen and pancreas. During the process, the intra-abdominal pressure is heightened, menstruating and pregnant women should avoid this.
Against the Wave (Viloma Pranayama): This type involves paused inhalations and exhalations. Lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Inhale, pause, and then resume inhalation. Do this until the lungs are full. Exhale slowly. Observe paused exhalation. Repeat.
Skull Shining Breath or Breath Of Fire (Kapalbhati Pranayama): There are three types of Kapalbhati — Vatakrama kapalbhati, involves active exhalation, passive inhalation; Vyutkrama kapalbhati involves sniffing water through nostrils and spitting it out the mouth; Sheetkrama kapalbhati is where water is taken through the mouth and emanated through the nose.
Which Pranayama Should be Done Every Day?
Here are five types of pranayama that should be done every day:
- Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
- Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)
- Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
- Skull Shining Breath and Breath of Fire (Kapalbhati Pranayama)
- Bellows Breath (Bhastrika Pranayama)
So, what are you waiting for? Start breathing right and change your mind, body, and life!