Pranayama is a system of breathing exercises that can significantly increase your energy level. Yogis use this technique not only for the purpose of improving the physical body but also as a way of controlling the flow of life energy. There is a saying that by controlling his breath, the yogi controls the thought, and by controlling the thought, he controls the breath (prana).
In this article, I will share with you what pranayama really is, what are its benefits, and how you can practice it.
What Is Pranayama?
‘Prana‘ is the Sanskrit word for breath, “life force”, or “vital principle”. ‘Ayāma‘ can be translated as “the suspension of breath” or “control”. Thus, “pranayama” can be translated as “control over vital energy”.
I’m sure many of you have heard the word “breatharianism“. This is a lifestyle in which a person eats not physical food, but prana. But the paradox is that, in some way, we are all breatharians, because food is made of prana, water is made of prana, and the air is made of prana. Life is impossible without prana. We consume prana every day. But only pranayama allows us to consume prana most effectively. The pranayama practice increases the amount of energy consumed and also reduces the need for sleep and food.
The Essence of Pranayama
Most often, pranayama is associated with breathing exercises that have a beneficial effect on the body, saturating it with oxygen. However, yogis use this technique not only for the purpose of improving their physical bodies but also as a way of controlling the flow of prana (vital energy).
Prana is the vital energy that fills everything in the Universe. It saturates all living things with life, providing physical bodies with strength. Breathing allows us to absorb prana and control its flow. It is believed that the basis of the entire existence consists of “energy” and “consciousness”, which are very closely interrelated. Prana gives energy to the forming of consciousness.
According to Patanjali, pranayama is the length of time between inhalation and exhalation. During this period, the time of assimilation of prana increases, the fluctuations of the mind decrease and the perception expands. But how is it possible to reduce the excitation of the brain by holding the breath? This is due to the fact that nerve impulses in some parts of the body are suspended, and the structure of brain waves is harmonized. Therefore, pranayama is one of the most important elements of Hatha yoga.
Buddha on Breathing
While holding the breath, there is a deep calm of the mind.
The sutras describe such an episode in the life of the Buddha.
One day, during his sermon, a disciple asked, “Why is the world so imperfect?” Then Brahma, the Creator of the world, who was also present at the Buddha‘s sermon, said that he created this world ideal, and only because living beings have too fast and short breath, their prana “jumps” in the body, and therefore there are “jumps” in the consciousness, and because of this we all see this world so imperfect. This is quite an interesting version, which is worth testing through your own experience. By stopping your breath you can calm your mind. And once your mind is calm you will be able to see the perfect world.
Quality of Prana
It is important to note that since pranayama allows you to effectively receive prana, it matters very much the quality of prana you receive.
It is best to perform pranayama in a clean place with fresh air – somewhere in nature, away from the city.
But if such ideal conditions are not available to you, then, at least, make sure to practice pranayama during a proper period of time.
The Best Time For Pranayama
Pranayama should be practiced early in the morning. The earlier the better the quality of prana. The optimal time to practice pranayama is the so-called Brahma Muhurta. It’s an hour and a half before sunrise. This is a period that has a state called “Nirguna” – the absence of the influence of energies on space. This is the best time for any spiritual practice. This period lasts 48 minutes.
The time before sunrise has the state of Sattva guna, that is, a state of joy and balance between the body and the mind. And after sunrise, begins the time of Raja guna, that is, a state of never-resting mind. And then Tamas guna period starts and lasts the whole day till evening. Tamas guna is what leads to destruction – the way by which nature destroys things. Therefore, it is not recommended to practice pranayama during this time.
Always pay attention to during what period you going to perform your pranayama practice since the time of the day affects the quality of prana! Be mindful of what prana you consume.
Pranayama allows you to lengthen the breath, which, according to the ancient yogis, increases longevity. Thanks to pranayama, a person learns how to properly use the lungs.
The fact is that in everyday life, most often only the top of the lungs is involved, which leads to oxygen starvation and accumulation of stagnant air in the lower part of the lungs. The ability to use the entire volume of the lungs allows us to become less exposed to respiratory diseases, increases the level of vital energy and makes it easier to cope with stress and anxiety.
2. Emotional balance
Pranayama practice affects our Central nervous system. Breathing affects the hypothalamus, which is responsible for emotional responses and the transformation of perceived reality into the experience.
3. Improves Cardiovascular health
Pranayama increases the blood circulation and oxygen capacity of the blood which helps improve the cardiovascular function of your body.
4. Deep concentration
Pranayama allows you to harmonize the flows of prana in Ida and Pingala. This allows you to direct the energy into Sushumna and achieve a state of deep concentration.
5. Reduces risk of Hypertension
Pranayama allows our bodies to relax and be free of stress and tensions which helps in bringing down hypertension.
Pranayama helps to remove all accumulated toxins from your body.
7. Cures Digestive problems
Pranayama helps in alleviating digestive problems and also helps reduce bloating.
8. Heals Sinusitis
Regular pranayama practice helps to treat or prevent sinusitis. Moreover, it helps in clearing out the nasal passages and stuffy noses.
9. Provides good-looking skin
Regular Pranayama can remove the blemishes and wrinkles from the skin and provide fresh oxygen making your skin glow in health.
As a preparatory practice for mastering pranayama, it is recommended to master the so-called “full yogic breath“. In fact, this is exactly the breath that is recommended to breathe in everyday life. And, sadly, most of us don’t breathe properly. Most of us breathe through shallow breathing, or at best through chest enlargement. With this breathing, energy costs for muscle movements are large, and the amount of assimilated air is low. How can we fix it? The answer is we should master the full yogic breath.
Full Yogic Breath
1. Close your eyes.
2. Place your hands on your stomach, slightly interlacing the fingers so that the fingertips come to the second knuckle of the opposite hand. Your navel should feel cradled.
3. Begin to breathe deeply into the navel, into the belly.
4. Practice breathing with a controlled, slow breath so that you feel the fingers slide apart on the inhale and back together on the exhale.
5. Breathe like this 15-20 times as deeply as you can without discomfort or force.
6. Slide the hands up to your ribcage. A good estimation is to have the pinky fingers hang over the edge of your ribs with thumbs right below the pectorals.
7. Keep breathing, except now inhale into the belly, into the ribs. Fill the belly first before expanding the hands on the ribs. Visualize the breath filling in your body from the bottom up. First the belly, then the ribs. Feel the ribs expand in all directions – not just forward, but sideways and into the back body.
8. As you exhale, retrace the steps from the inhale. Exhale starting from the ribs, finishing off with the belly. The navel drawing should helpfully expel your air. Don’t force your breath in either direction, in or out.
9. Repeat this another 15-20 times. Into the belly, into the ribs. Out from the ribs, out from the belly
10. Separate the hands and place them on your chest, resting the palms above the heart center with fingertips gently curled over the collar bones.
11. Continue breathing. Start into the belly, into the ribs, into the chest. Filling up your torso with breath from the bottom up, all the way to your fingertips. Feel the breath rise along the spine, expanding the insides in all directions. Exhale the way the breath came in. From the chest, through the ribs, out of the belly.
12. Keep the spine as tall as possible. Just by following the breath from the bottom to the top, from the top to the bottom, you’re already mindful of how the spine is stacked.
13. Repeat this 15-20 times.
After you’ve found your full yogic breath expanding throughout these three areas of the body, allow the breath to normalize. Pay some attention to how it feels as you inhale and exhale. Find your smooth, natural breath, keeping a tall spine and your eyes closed. You’ll know when to stop.
Pranayama for Beginners
If you decide to learn pranayama, you should not immediately begin to practice some complex practices. In case of failure, the desire to master pranayama may disappear for a long time. Therefore, you should start with some simple techniques. One of the simplest (but at the same time very effective) techniques is called “Nadi Shodhana“.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
There are three main energy channels in our bodies: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna. Ida is the left channel, Pingala is the right channel, and Sushumna is the central channel.
The right channel is traditionally considered a masculine energy channel, as it shows masculine qualities. The left channel is a feminine energy channel. For the yogi, it is important to balance Ida and Pingala channels and let the energy flow through the Central channel – Sushumna. Only in this case, is balance and harmony possible. And this is the goal of Nadi Shodhana practice.
The regular practice of Nadi Shodhana offers an energy boost in the body and releases stress and anxiety. It should be practiced in the morning in the fresh air with an empty stomach.
- Sit comfortably on flat ground.
- Now close the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe from the left nostril. Then close your left nostril with middle and ring finger and breathe out from right nostril.
- Now closing in the left nostril breathe in deeply with the right nostril and then close the right nostril and breathe out deeply with the left nostril. Do the repetition.
This is another very simple pranayama that is suitable for beginners.
In this pranayama, the body gets the maximum amount of oxygen due to complete inhaling and exhaling.
- Sit comfortably on flat ground.
- Take a deep breath through both nostrils and fill the lungs with air and then exhale completely with a hissing sound.
This pranayama is very effective in curing stomach disorder, obesity, digestive disorder and other problems related to stomach.
- Sit on a flat floor folding your legs, keeping the spine straight and close the eyes.
- Keep the right palm on the right knee and left palm on the left knee.
- Take a deep breath and exhale with all your force so your stomach will go deep inside.
- When you exhale with hissing sound try to think that your disorders are coming out of your nose.
- Do not stress on inhaling. Inhalation should not involve any effort. Inhaling will be done automatically after each exhaling.
‘Sheeta’ means ‘cooling’, which is exactly the effect of this pranayama. It’s great for relieving stress, anxiety, and tension.
- Sit in a comfortable position with the back and head erect, hands on the knees in Jnana mudra and eyes closed.
- Make a puckered circle with your mouth then stick out your tongue and curl the edges inwards to form a tube.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through the tube as if sucking air through a straw to the count of 4.
- Fill up your abdomen and chest to full capacity.
- Retain the breath.
- Straighten your head and exhale through the nostrils until all air is expelled.
This is an excellent breathing practice that plays an important role in releasing agitation, frustration, and anger. It is the best breathing exercise in calming your mind.
- Sit comfortably on flat ground.
- Place your index fingers on the forehead and with the remaining fingers close your eyes.
- Start inhaling through both the nostril deeply and slowly.
- By keeping the mouth closed, exhale by making a humming sound like “hmmm”. While making humming sounds say “Om” in soft humming sound.
The Bottom Line
Pranayama is an amazing practice that can allow you to gain quite an interesting experience. Its advantage is that pranayama for beginners and exercises like full yogic breathing can be mastered by anyone without any difficulties.