What is Pranayama? A Brief History and Yoga Benefits
September 19, 2022
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that refers to the ancient practice of breath control in yoga. It is considered a fundamental aspect of the practice, used as a tool to regulate the breath and promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
With roots dating back thousands of years, Pranayama is a tried and tested practice that has stood the test of time and continues to be widely used and respected in modern times.
Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, incorporating Pranayama into your routine can offer numerous benefits, including reduced stress and anxiety, improved respiratory function, increased energy levels, and improved sleep. In this article, we will explore the history and techniques of Pranayama and delve into the many benefits that this powerful practice can offer.
Yama: social relations, benevolence, authenticity, etc. ;
Niyamas: self-discipline, having a pure body, cultivating hard work, letting go, getting to know yourself, contentment, etc. ;
Samadhi: connection to the universe to form oneness;
Pranayama: breath control.
Breathing is the most vital universal essence. The breath, the oxygen, is the energy most essential to the life of any living being. It is in the first place because we can survive a few weeks without eating, a few days without drinking, and only a few minutes without air.
For this thousand-year-old discipline that is yoga, the development of your breath is fundamental to feeling good on a daily basis. It is at this precise moment that pranayama comes into play. This term can be translated as:
The control for “Yama”;
the breath, the expansion for “prana”.
In other words, it is about managing to discipline your breath through breathing exercises. But pranayama goes far beyond simple deep inhales and exhales. The objective is to lengthen our own respiratory cycle, to obtain a perfect balance of energy, the air, in our body.
The History of Pranayama
The practice of Pranayama can be traced back to ancient India and has been used for thousands of years by yogis and spiritual seekers. It was considered a way to purify the body and mind, and to prepare the practitioner for deeper levels of meditation.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanajli, written around 400 CE, the use of Pranayama is described as a way to still the fluctuations of the mind and achieve a state of inner peace and enlightenment. Over time, the practice spread throughout India and was eventually integrated into various spiritual and philosophical systems, including Hinduism and Buddhism.
Today, Pranayama is a widely recognized and respected practice that continues to be used by yogis and meditation practitioners all over the world. It is considered a safe and effective tool for reducing stress, improving physical and mental health, and achieving a greater sense of inner peace and well-being.
How To Practice Pranayama
To breathe is to absorb enough oxygen to live. And breathing properly is actually not easy. This essential function is governed by our unconscious and autonomous system. We control it only when we pay attention to it.
We are often short of breath: “I need to breathe”, “catch your breath”, and “calm down, breathe”… are all expressions revealing an uncontrolled breath on a daily basis.
It even happens sometimes that this control escapes us, especially in moments of intense stress or emotional overflow.
By practicing pranayama exercises, breathing becomes better on a daily basis. Because yes, in the yoga discipline, it must be effective and tangible. All the times of the respiratory cycle must be perfectly controlled, in particular:
Air intake or inhalation: it must be slow, progressive, and gentle;
internal retention: the air is kept in the body for a long time just after inhalation;
exhalation: the expulsion of air must be deep and you must concentrate on your lungs;
external retention: focus on the empty lungs, just after exhaling.
For pranayama, the inspiration must be of equal duration to the expiration. Also, it is essential to take care to completely fill the lungs with air at the end of the inspiration, but also to empty them completely at the end of the expiration.
That’s not all, the goal is to have a controlled breath of greater quality, you have to train to prolong these breathing cycles. It is therefore also on the mind that we must act to fight against natural and automatic desires, such as, for example, catching our breath at the end of an exhalation.
Benefits of Pranayama
A better-oxygenated body
Inspiration, for most people, tends to be too short. It is therefore not deep enough, we speak of superficial inspiration.
Inhaling a larger quantity of oxygen increases the supply of this element to the brain. By practicing pranayama, you use the entire lung surface, and your respiratory system thanks you for it.
Your whole organism is better nourished with vital energy, and therefore better balanced. And to maintain this equity is to achieve harmony between body and mind, fundamental to maintaining good health in the yogic culture.
A pure body
Breathing is two-way. It is thanks to it that the evacuation of waste, in particular carbon dioxide, can take place.
The elimination of toxins is just as essential as the supply of oxygen. Like inhaling, exhaling is usually not long and deep enough. As a result, some of the waste-laden air resides in the lungs, but also in the trachea.
And to filter these carbon dioxide residues, the body recycles them by drawing on oxygen reserves. As a result, the body is poorly oxygenated due to the presence of impurities.
This is why, for pranayama yoga, completely emptying your lungs is as essential as inhaling. Thus, a very small quantity of polluted air remains in the lungs, which makes it possible to have a purer organism.
Pranayama brings a large quantity of oxygen, conveyed by the blood, into the brain. Efficient breathing will then increase the ability to concentrate.
In addition, a properly oxygenated brain offers very deep mental relaxation. This relaxation leads to an avalanche of benefits:
Better stress management;
decrease in anxiety;
better quality sleep;
improved brain function;
helps fight depression.
The Techniques of Pranayama
Pranayama yoga breathing exercises are very numerous. If you are a beginner, it is advisable to take at least one course supervised by a yoga teacher. To help you at home, here are 3 examples of breathing exercises.
This type of pranayama yoga exercise helps to regain physical energy. That is why it is also called refreshing breath. It also calms emotions.
To perform this exercise, you must sit on a chair or in an armchair. Take a deep and slow breath in through your mouth, and more precisely with your tongue: form a tube with this organ, like this, you are sucking in the air with a straw.
At the end of the inspiration, go back into the tongue, but keep this tube shape. Hold your breath. Then, expel the air slowly with your nostrils.
The Kapalabhati breath
Also called fire breathing, it is a question here of having a passive inspiration and an active expiration.
To do this pranayama yoga exercise, you have to stand in the lotus position, keeping your back straight.
Take one or two passive breaths: they are slow but natural. Then release the air with force and speed, so much so that noise can be emitted by the nose.
Kapalabhati breathing helps to have a clear and lucid mind. It helps to detoxify the body and eliminates certain mental blockages.
Alternate Breathing: Nadi Shodhana
To do this pranayama yoga exercise, you can sit in the lotus posture. The hand intervenes in this respiratory drive.
Place the right thumb against the right nostril. Your index and middle fingers are simply placed between the eyebrows. As for the ring finger, it is against the left nostril.
Take a deep breath in, then expel the air by releasing your nostrils. Then close the right nostril to inhale through the left nostril.
Hold your breath slightly.
Close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Make slight air retention. Then take an inhale with the right nostril, then hold your breath.
Close the right nostril, then exhale through that same nostril.
Alternate breathing helps regulate emotions, purify the body and cleanse the nasal passages.
Pranayama is a safe and effective tool for improving physical and mental health. Its benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, improved respiratory function, increased energy levels, improved sleep, improved mental clarity and focus, and increased physical strength and flexibility.
So, why not try incorporating Pranayama into your daily routine today?