Thanks to the numerous health benefits associated with the practice, yoga and pranayama is becoming one of the most popular health practices across the globe, and its popularity keeps rising.
Today, there are many yoga exercises that any individual looking to take care of their health can take advantage of.
Pranayama yogic breathing is among the yoga exercises that are leading in popularity. Most experts in this field regard it as one of the most fundamental practices in yoga.
What is yogic breathing?
Pranayama is a combination of several breathing techniques which vary in complexity and are aimed at uniting the body, the mind, and the breath. This exercise is not only undertaken to promote the wellbeing of the mind and the body but also to anchor concentration and mindfulness.
Yogic breathing is closely tied to the practice of asanas and has numerous emotional and physical benefits.
This exercise was outlined as the fourth of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 8 limbs of the yoga. The word “prana” means breath, energy, or life force, and these exercises help an individual learn how to control and direct it.
As you know, breathing is usually an involuntary act, and you can’t control whether you breathe or not. Despite this, it’s entirely possible to control other aspects of breathing like the way you breathe.
Breathing control exercises like deliberate methods of exhalation and inhalation, and breath retention are the foundation of Pranayama.
The body and breathing
Breathing is part of our body’s involuntary actions that is controlled by the autonomic system of the body’s nervous system. which is made up of the parasympathetic and as well as sympathetic nervous systems.
The sympathetic system is in charge of governing the body’s responses to stimuli. This nervous system decides whether a stimulus is threatening and directs your body on how to react, and this action is what is commonly described as the fight or flight response.
On the other hand, the parasympathetic system instructs the body to calm down after a reaction to a dangerous or stressful stimulus has passed. Breathing is also part of how the body reacts to a dangerous or stressful stimulus.
In a life-threatening situation, the sympathetic system will direct the lungs to breathe more. Here the breath will become fast and short to help the body load itself well with oxygen as it prepares to fight or escape.
Your body can also have this type of response in case of a panic or several other non-life-threatening stressors.
The parasympathetic system then sets in to calm down the body and normalize the breathing after the danger or stress has passed.
Types of yogic breathing
There are different types of yogic breathing that you can practice. These types are governed by various factors, including how you inhale and exhale, and also how you retain your breath.
Three-part breath – Dirga pranayama
This type of yogic breathing is recommended for beginners. This exercise helps you learn how to fill your lungs completely. Training your lungs to fill completely is vital as most of the time, you are not using them to full capacity. Moreover, it means that your lungs can more easily adapt to situations where you need to use them to full capacity like during a sympathetic nervous response. The three-part breath or dirga pranayama exercise can be done before a yoga exercise as part of the warm-up.
Equal breathing – Sama vritti pranayama
This type of pranayama exercise involves taking long, slow, deep breaths. Engaging in this type of activity has a cooling effect on the body. To undertake the equal breathing or sama vritti pranayama, you have to focus your attention on maintaining similar inhalation and exhalation lengths. This focus and attention help your mind get a break from the usual hum of activities.
Alternate nostril breathing – The Nadi sodhana
This type of breathing is aimed at helping you bring your body into balance. The exercise involves blocking one of your nostrils, inhaling, and then exhaling through the one that is open before switching. This type of yogic breathing clears all the energy pathways on each of the body sides and thus bring your body into balance.
Cooling breath – Shitali pranayama
This type of yogic breathing involves taking a simple breath to cool your body. It is advisable that you take this breath after doing your yoga postures and your body is worm and also during a hot day.
Ocean breath – Ujjayi
The ocean breath is the most interesting forms of yogic breathing. This exercise helps calm down the sympathetic nerves and also boosts your body’s oxygen consumption. This pranayama exercise is more common in vinyasa yoga as its power is needed to support most of the body vigorous flow.
Lion’s breath – Simhasana
The simhasana or lion’s breath exercise helps you to blow off some steam and release the tension on your face. This type of pranayama can be done during yoga practice or anytime you feel like lifting your spirit.
Skull shining breath – Kapalabhati Pranayama
This type of yogic breathing is an advanced breathing exercise and to do it well, you should learn it from an experienced practitioner. This exercise helps your body generate heat that can clear your nasal passages. You might feel lightheaded if you happen to do the skull shining breath or kapalabhati pranayama incorrectly.
Benefits of pranayama yogic breathing
Pranayama, just like any other yoga practice, has numerous benefits to your body and mind. Here are some of the top benefits that you should expect once you engage in yogic breathing.
Emotional stability and happiness
Engaging in pranayama and manipulating your breath using the techniques mentioned above can significantly alter how you feel.
Studies by the journal, Cognition and Emotion pointed out that this type of yoga led to an up to 40% variance in feelings of fear, anger, and sadness. The study mentioned that ujjayi pranayama or ocean breath was the technique that was most effective in invoking feelings of joy. When you are feeling low, practicing this technique will make you feel more joyful.
The effect can extend just beyond your body as the newly found emotional stability can allow you to concentrate better on what you want to do. This will result in better productivity and in turn, success.
Today, obesity is among the biggest health challenges that the world is facing. Getting rid of excess weight can be difficult, and sometimes, you may not be as successful as you might wish. Pranayama can help with weight loss.
Yogic breathing exercises significantly increase the leptin hormone level. This hormone is produced by the fat tissue and sends signals to the brain to inhibit hunger. Less hunger means you are likely to take in fewer unnecessary calories.
According to the research by Director of Patanjali Research Foundation, Shirley Telles, Ph.D., this means that you will eat less and the body can use its fat reserves to power its functions by breaking down the fat into ketone bodies. On a side note, ketones are a very clean source of fuel for your body and may even be the preferred fuel source for your brain.
Practicing pranayama over a period of time means that your body can get to burn through its fat reserves and thus you can lose significant weight. If your target is to lose weight, you can do these exercises together with weight loss yoga exercises.
Boost your exercise stamina
Do you find yourself getting worn out not long after you start exercising? In this case, your mind might be very willing to go on, but your body just can’t anymore. This means that you have low exercise stamina, and the experience can be frustrating.
You can take advantage of pranayama yogic exercise to increase your body stamina. A University of Pavia cardiologist conducted a study on this subject and came up with astonishing findings. A group of mountaineers practicing pranayama every day for two years was compared to a group that didn’t, in a challenge to climb Mount Everest.
The group that practiced yogic breathing was able to reach the summit with no need for supplemental oxygen while the other group struggled. They succeeded to get to the summit, without supplemental oxygen, as they were able to utilize up to 70 % of their lung’s surface area and thus took in more oxygen. They were simply more efficient at gathering oxygen via their lungs.
You might not be scared by the thought of dying, but you definitely want to live longer. That is the reason why you are trying to keep your health in check as much as you are now.
Pranayama just like other yoga exercises can help you live a longer and healthier life. A study conducted by Harvard University pointed out that yogic breathing had a significant influence on the expression of genes for both short-term and as well as long-term exercisers.
This study pointed out that pranayama significantly improved metabolism and also suppressed inflammation. Reduced metabolism and increased inflammation are some of the major causes of diseases associated with aging. This type of yoga can keep off diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
As you start your yoga sessions, you should make sure that you incorporate yogic breathing among your exercises. This type of yoga will not only help you live a happier life, but also a healthy one.
In summary, Pranayama can have a positive effect on your health, both body and mind. It can help you live longer but also more happily.
For additional information on how breathing brings better health take a look at this article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/