What is prana?
Before getting into pranayama, let’s first understand what prana is. There is no comparative word for prana in English, but we can call it “life force” or “vital energy”. It is needed for physical and other subtler layers of the body. Without prana, the body would cease to exist.
It is the energy which flows within us, through thousands of nadis (energy channels) and energy centers called chakras. It also creates an aura around the body. The way it functions within you determines the states of your mind and body.
If one has steady, continuous flow of prana, the mind remains absolute calm and in a peaceful state. However, things go in different ways when prana is not sufficient or jerky, one might experience more worries, fear, anger or other negative energies.
What is pranayama and how it works?
Pranayama, as the word indicates “prana” means energy and “yama” means to control. So, pranayama is a method in the yogic system that makes you aware of this energy so that you can take charge of it. There are total 8 limbs of yoga and pranayama is the one that comes after Asanas (poses/postures).
This technique involves breathing exercises and patterns. Being aware of the breath while doing it is a key factor in this process. The aim of this particular technique is to connect body and mind. It supplies oxygen to every part of the body, thereby, removing toxins and replenishing it with fresh energy (prana).
It’s important because we go through daily life without even being aware of our own breath.
When we work on our breath through pranayama, we allow the life energy to flow throughout our body. It energizes, relaxes and heals us by letting everything fall into place as it should.
Types/Methods in Pranayama:
There are different techniques involved in pranayama and are practiced while sitting down (cross legged) with an erect spine. Some important techniques are:
1) Bhastrika pranayama (forceful breathing): This method requires you to inhale and exhale rapidly and with forceful impact. The lungs must be full and diaphragm should be stretched while inhaling. It results in increased oxygen level and energizes the entire body and mind.
2) Kapalbhati pranayama (Skull Shining breath): It involves forceful exhalation and passive inhalation. Pushing your stomach in while exhaling is the most crucial part. It cleanses the whole system and improves immunity.
3) Nadi Shodhana/Anulom Vilom (Alternate nostril breathing): This is one of the most important technique in pranayama because this particular method prepares one to enter into a meditative state. It involves breathing in through one nostril and releasing through the other. It keeps the mind calm and happy by letting out any tensions.
Benefits of doing pranayama:
Doing this on a regular basis has its own benefits in terms of physical and psychological aspects of health. Some of them are:
1) Decreases stress and other mental ailments: Focusing on the breath makes our brain to receive more oxygen which improves focus, clarity and concentration. Regular practice of pranayama charges your aura with optimism and tranquility. Psychological well being is wholly guaranteed when one takes charge of prana.
2) Physical well being: As pranayama acts on the nervous system, it also strengthens the muscles and massages other internal organs by increasing circulation throughout the body. It also boosts the immune system.
3) Emotional and spiritual benefits: It helps you to let go of any negative thoughts or energies. Basically, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing the fight or flight response and producing a sense of stablility.
Focusing on the breath draws one towards the present moment, increasing feelings of inner peace and stillness. It works as a wonderful tool for meditation and other spiritual practices.
4) Improves sleep quality: Pranayama promotes mindfulness, thereby, improving sleep quota exceptionally. As the mind and body goes into energetic and peaceful state after a session of pranayama, it needs quality sleep as well to get proper rest.
5) Helps in weight loss: Practicing kapalbhati activates the abdominal muscles, thereby reducing belly fat. It also releases sweat from certain parts of the body where it burns calories as well as fat.
Related: Yoga and its importance