What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is ‘yoga breathing’.  Pranayama consists of breathing exercises specifically designed to meet the needs of our body and to keep our body in perfect health.  Prana, or vital energy, is the source of life for all living creatures in our universe.

Pranayama is the art of breathing in order to still the mind and our thought processes, because thoughts and prana are the same.  By using our breath we can control our thoughts, so therefore controlled breathing is a useful tool for harmonizing our body, our mind, and our consciousness. Pranayama increases vital reserves in the body.

How We Breathe

When we inhale, we draw oxygen into our body.  The air flows through our body as an energy form, re-charging body parts.  When we exhale, we release carbon dioxide, removing the toxic waste from our bodies.  Unfortunately, due to the stresses of life, most people don’t actually breathe properly, and we end up breathing with shallow quick breaths, using only a small percentage of our lung’s capacity.  Due to this shallow way of breathing, a lot of the carbon dioxide is not removed from our body, so together with a lack of oxygen we become susceptible to serious health issues – such as sleep disorders, heart disease and fatigue.  These are just a sample of some of the ailments that can occur because of the lack of oxygen to our body.

Through Pranayama, we can increase our oxygen intake, and increase the removal of carbon dioxide, from our bodies.  By practicing systematic deep breathing we can re-vitalize our body with new prana.  Some of the benefits of practicing Pranayama are calmness, vitality, increased concentration, alertness of mind, and a healthy glow to the skin.

Why Does Ayurveda Regard Pranayama as so important?

Even though breathing is such a normal part of our life, we don’t pay any attention to it and what we may be doing wrong.  So why is Yoga breathing so important?  Below are some reasons why correct breathing is vital to our good health.

Benefits of Pranayama

  • Practicing Pranayama instructs us on the correct way to breathe.  We’re so used to breathing shallow breaths from our chest, which uses only a small percentage of our lung’s capacity that we haven’t stopped to realize that this is an unnatural and unhealthy way of breathing.  Continuing on in this manner could eventually lead to health complications.
  • When we study yoga breathing techniques we learn how to increase our lung’s capacity, therefore drawing more oxygen into our body to enable it to function at its best.  We learn that breathing deeply and slowly is actually the right way to breathe.
  • By breathing correctly, body wastes and toxins are eliminated from our bodies, thus reducing the risk of disease.
  • When we breathe properly, our digestion improves, constipation becomes a thing of the past, and our metabolism normalizes.
  • Correct breathing promotes improved concentration and mind focus.  It’s even more effective than sleeping in counteracting stress.
  • Better breathing means better concentration, so we become more self-controlled.  Our reactions and temper become more controlled, the mind functions more clearly enabling good decision making.  This self-control also covers the physical body.
  • Practicing Pranayama is a wonderful spiritual journey, bringing relaxation of both body and mind.

A Word of Caution

Pranayama should be taught by an expert, and under their guidance you will learn the correct techniques.  If this is done incorrectly, and without the right preparation, there could be serious consequences to the nervous system.