Understanding Pranayama And Its Benefits

What does pranayama mean? The word Pranayama is made up of two syllables – Prana and Ayama. Prana indicates the life source or the consciousness. The entire play of life is nothing but consciousness that is around us and within us. Everything in this universe is made up of one source, one energy and this is called the Prana. Ayama means control.

Hence Pranayama means the control of life energy. If you ask yourself what is the vital source of life energy for you? The answer would be “your breathing”. Your breath is as good as your life itself. When you inhale you take in the energy around you or the life source surrounding you.

You breathe in life energy. That’s the reason why your breath is so important. Pranayama as a practice in hatha yoga teaches you how to control your breathing. Through the control of your breathe you start controlling your self. This is the first step towards the attainment of higher consciousness.

Hazards of Irregular Breathing

Irregular breathing is not normal but is followed by almost everyone who has not been taught the value of their breath. Yoga points towards the fact that the reason for imbalance in our lives is due to irregular breathing. The various diseases which have inflicted the human race in the recent times have their roots founded in this pattern of irregular breathing. Most disorders whether it be mental or physical are instigated by the way your breath day in and day out. If you observe carefully there are two types of irregular breathing most frequently observed in yourself

1. Shallow breathing
2. Rapid breathing

Shallow breathing: Whenever you are feeling low or depressed you will find yourself breathing slowly and shallowly. Your intake of air would be less and it would be slow.

Rapid breathing: Usually when you are angry or in a fit of rage you don’t observe your breathing but if you do, it will be evident that it is very rapid in nature. You tend to take breaths in short gasps.

Both these patterns of breathing cause an imbalance of Prana in you. The life energy is not flowing smoothly and hence it manifests as a disorder outwardly seen as depression or anger. Anyone who practices yoga with discipline would attain control over his breath with practice. After that his/her breathing would rhythmic and hence the flow of life energy would be balanced. Such a person will never feel disturbed or succumb to destructive emotional states.

The functions of breathing as explained in yoga literature

Breathing is vital to our existence and it is a life giving force for each living organism. Yoga literature explains the various functions fulfilled by the air that we breathe-in as below:

Prana: The air circulates around the heart and provides oxygen which is vital to its functioning

Vyana: The air circulates around the body via the blood stream and distributes the life giving force of food

Apana: The air we breathe controls the functions of excretion

Samana: The air we breathe stimulates the flow of gastric juices and hence it aids digestion

Udana: The air maintains its presence in the thoracic cage and allows absorption of vital constituents

Naga: Relieve abdominal pressure

Krkara: Prevent foreign or harmful substance from entering into the nasal cavity or descending into the throat by inducing sneezing

Dhanamjaya: Air is one constituent which remains in our body even after our death

Devadutta: When you are lazy it provokes yawning and ensures absorption of oxygen to revitalize the body

Imagine the harm you are causing your body organs and glands as well as your brain by practicing irregular breathing. Without your knowledge you are sabotaging the life force within you and this is the reason why most people in today’s generation are afflicted with diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart problems. There is so much stress prevalent that is almost palpable. The reason for all these disorders is the imbalance that has crept into our breathing.

Benefits of Pranayama as Discipline of Yoga

The practice of Pranayama in itself can cure a person of all ills. When this practice is perfected you can be assured of a healthy body and a mind which is free of negativity. Pranayama exercises involve various types of breath control practices. The second part of this article discusses all the various breathing exercises in Pranayama which you can peruse for better understanding. The purpose of this discussion is to enlist the benefits you reap once you have perfected the exercises.

1. Pranayama Helps in the Improved functioning of your kidney and bowels: Yoga advocates that function of excretion as vital to the functioning of a healthy body. Breathing induces a massaging action on your internal organs including the kidney, bowel and diaphragm. The alternate inhale and exhale which is performed while breathing induces a contraction and expansion of these organs.

Pranayama practice ensures that the inhaling and exhaling is rhythmic. Moreover the exercises which entail holding your breath and exhaling slowly apply a definite pressure over these organs inducing a stimulating massage. The result would be stronger and more elastic muscles controlling the kidney and your bowel leading to better functioning of these organs.

2. Pranayama Helps in the Improved function of your liver: People who face digestive problems on a frequent basis tend to have a weak liver. The functioning of their pancreas and stomach would also be suboptimal. The various Pranayama exercises induce a massaging action upon all these organs relieving them of all the congestion improving the blood flow. There is an immediate improvement in the process of digestion once the liver is free of congestion. The stimulation of the pancreas also ensures that the digestive system functions optimally.

3. Pranayama Helps the Lungs Perform Better: The various Pranayama exercises induce the lungs to open as far as possible. Due to this expansion the lungs have an increased surface area to absorb oxygen and to relieve themselves of toxic gases. This ensures that you are free of all the breathing diseases such as asthama

4. Improves the circulation of blood: Proper circulation of blood is vital to the proper function of a human body. Diseases such a thyroid problems, heart problems and prostate problems are usually due to improper circulation of blood to the endocrine glands. Pranayama exercises induce a rapid circulation of blood. Moreover the blood is rich in oxygen and reaches the nerve endings faster. The action of rhythmic breathing stimulates the nerves around the spinal column and the synaptic nerves inducing a rich blood flow to the brain inducing clearer thought.

5. Pranayama Aids the Endrocine Functioning: The endocrine glands work in cohesion with the nervous system to ensure that nerve impulse are transmitted quickly. In people who feel sluggish through out the day and have the tendency to sleep longer, there could well be a problem with their endocrine functioning. Pranayama stimulates the endocrine glands to ensure proper transmission of nerve impulses. People who practice Pranayama stay active through out the day and do not feel sluggish or fatigued.

Part 2: Pranayama Techniques
Part 3: Points to Remember While Practicing Pranayama