Pranayama is an ancient yogic practice of controlling the breath to gain longevity and self-mastery. Prana is a Sanskrit word for life force. Pranayama, or rhythmic breathing is used to calm the mind during yoga practice. Pranayama is more than just controlling the breath, it's connecting to the life force within our breath.
Breathing is something most of us take for granted, thankfully. We breath without needing to be conscious of this action. However, when we decide to become conscious of our breath. We transcend immediately to a more spiritual awareness. The breath is a representation of our active consciousness.
In the Vedas, the ancient text written thousands of years ago, pranayama is understood as barometer of life expectancy. It is taught that to extend our lives. We must breath more slowly and fully each minute. We can see understand this advantage when we consider how much more oxygen fills the body when we're relaxed. When we are scared our breathing becomes shallow. We might forget to breath at all.
Learning to regulate our breathing cycles can help maintain better health. It has been shown that deep breathing slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, settles the mind and helps with all the organs to operate better. We are capable of shifting our awareness instantly when we use breath to control ourselves.
The breath can help us to manage pain, especially true for laboring women. We can utilize deep breathing to calm our anger, or to remove the desire to react impulsively. We have all heard someone suggest "take a deep breath, just breath". Because even if, you never heard of pranayama, it's a science that works.
Pranayama has been known to increase a practitioner’s life span. Some physicians have suggested that with proper practice a person could extend their life to 160 years. Suggesting the average life span to be 108 years, when a 15 breath-per-minute cycle is observed with consistency.
The idea of using the breath to gain strength or control over the body may seem appealing. The truth is, being conscious of breathing is already a gift. It helps to liberate the mind in a simple, but powerful way. The breath gives the mind a focal point, anchoring it to the repetitions of its movement. This technique of watching our breathing is a useful method in meditation to still the mind and settle the body.
Every part of our bodies instantly responds to deep breaths. This is partly because the breath is feeding the body oxygen. It is also increasing the energy within our consciousness through the use of our breath. This life force energy has many names. It has been referred to in other systems as; Qi (a term used within Chinese philosophy and energy medicine), Mana (term used in Huna practices of ancient Hawaii), or Prana ( a yogic term).
The energy that is created within our breath brings the gift of vitality and long life. As we cultivate it, we grow stronger, calmer and healthier. Some people have found that through concentrated breath work they achieved new levels of awareness. Transcendent experiences have been reported that include outer body experiences and enhance perception. Others have reported increased health benefits that included weight lost and relief from insomnia.
There are many different pranayama practices. As with most yoga, basic practices are equally powerful to advance options. Staying with the practice is what matters. Beginning with an easy practice to build stamina and repetition that will ensure success. There is a natural progression found for many practitioners. They find that the breath begins to lead their minds into expansion and increased mental acuity.
This instruction below is a starting point to begin cultivating health and longevity. Each breath is a step towards health, vitality and strength. We grow stronger as we practice. Pranayama is like weightlifting, over time great strength and power is gained. The power within this practice is limitless.
Four Types of Pranayama
Ujai Inhale slowly through both nostrils counting, filling the torso with life
force. Hold the breath a moment, then slowly release the exhale
through both nostrils keeping the mouth closed.
This is a life giving breath that calms the body. Returning the
body’s physiology to a restored state. It helps to build vitality and
stamina by increasing lung capacity and feeding the body oxygen. It is
the basic breath in yoga practices to help bring a sense of calm to the
body after a challenging pose. It is a powerful asana all by itself. Sitting
and practicing Ujai breathing is a powerful yoga. Start with a cycle of
ten breaths. Building up to 30 breath cycles.
Bhastrika Inhale slowly raising arms up palms open facing the sky. Closed the
hands lowering them, exhale without force, gently with calmness.
Repeat ten times, building the practice up to 30 times.
Analom This is a form of alternate breathing. Inhale slowly through the left
nostril hold the right nostril closed. Breathing slowing fill the body with
prana. On the full inhale hold the breath for 2 counts switch finger
position closing the left nostril and opening the right nostril. Exhale out
the right nostril. Holding the breath for a moment begin inhaling
through the right nostril. When reaching the full inhale hold breath for
2 counts. Switch the fingers again, opening the left nostril and closing
the right, exhale out the left nostril only. This is one cycle. Repeat ten
times building up to 30.
This alternate breathing practice helps to regulate the central nervous
system within the body. It helps to encourage better sleep. It is used
in dream yoga preparation practices to increase lucidity in
dreaming. It encourages integration by nurturing inner balance of the
divine masculine/feminine within.
Kapal Batti This is a rapid breathing exercise. Do not move the shoulders or chest
during this exercise. Breathing rapidly through both nostrils, then
exhale out both nostrils in one go. Observe the belly as it moves
inward on the exhale. Repeating 108 times. Building up over time to
200, 600 and then 1,000 breathes.
This practice helps to build the inner fire of the system. It helps to
increase blood flow, encourages metabolism, releases toxins and
warms the muscles strengthening the abdomen. This is a powerful
pranayama that helps to increase concentration release mental stress
and give a boost of instant energy.
If this practice is new, or health issues are a concern, check with your personal advising physician first. Although these practices are fundamentally safe, they are powerful. Bodily sensations and awaken energy is expected as the energetic body responds to the life force. Some people report having special experiences that are described as transcendental in nature.
Remember in yoga, we practice not to go to the next level. We practice to discover ourselves in the practice. This might mean repeating a simple practice and achieving mastery for some. Others might move through their practice requiring additional variations to achieve the same results. Practice for the sake of practice, and always listening to your body as its directed by inner knowing.