Sanskrit – Pranayama
Meaning: Prana, life force
Yoga looks upon breathing as a means of taking in the universal life-force energy which is called Prana. As we breathe we take in Prana. It is stored, circulated and promotes the health and vitality of the body. We only use about 1/5th of our lung capacity in our normal breathing. In full Yoga breathing we use our full capacity and improve upon it.
We can use our breath to calm down, cool down, warm up, and energise. Different techniques do different things.
Pranayama and Breathing
Prana is the vital Life force, which makes things live; it pervades the whole cosmos. We can think of it as an etheric energy. It is in everything, the earth, plants, animals, insects, the air we breathe, although it is more subtle than the air, it is an energy essence. It might be thought of as the medium which links the body with the soul, the connecting force between consciousness and matter. It activates the body via the nadis.
Yama means ‘to control’, and so, pranayama stimulates our vital energies and eventually gives us perfect control of the prana within the body. With pranayama techniques we are influencing the flow of prana within the ‘nadis’- energy channels, and we strengthen the energy body, pranamaya kosha, and bring about balance and stability.
Pranayama is the 4th limb of yoga, and can be divided into three parts:
Puraka – filling.
Kumbhaka – holding filled or empty,
Rechaka – emptying.
We have 5 types of prana in the body, prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana. Known as the five Vital Airs.
In our every day lives we go through many different emotions. If we are in shock, upset, grieving or laughing, each different state will have a different effect on our pattern of breathing. Sobbing might come from deep down in our chest, if we are frightened our breathing will become very shallow. So we can see that there is a strong link between slow deep breathing and a state of ease and relaxation.
As part of a Yoga class, I see breathing in two different ways. One is a physical activity aimed at improving lung capacity, circulation and muscle tone; this is vital for providing the body with the fuel it needs, prior to asana practice. This work can vastly improve bronchitis or asthma, and will also be beneficial for smokers or anyone suffering problems with breathing. It is a useful preparation for the second ‘way’
The second way is one of energy work- Pranayama, which prepares the energetic system for meditation. Here we have the classic pranayama practices of Uujayi, Nadi Sodana, or Anulama Viloma, and Bhastrika. All of these are powerful practices needing careful guidance.
Regular practice encourages an easy flow of breath, which can be sustained during meditation. Here we have the classic pranayama practices of Uujayi, Nadi Sodana, or Anulama Viloma, and Bhastrika. All of these are powerful practices needing careful guidance.
Regular practice encourages an easy flow of breath, which can be sustained during meditation.
Benefits and Practice
When the lungs work more efficiently
we take in more energy, oxygen and prana. We feel more vital and alive.
We only use about a fifth of our lung capacity normally.
The alveoli can become clogged and congested, as we improve our breathing this congestion clears, the lung tissue becomes more elastic and with a greater lung capacity our overall fitness improves.
As we are able to take in more oxygen, the heart and circulation benefit. During deep breathing the heart muscle is exercised.
The intercostal muscles in the chest and back begin to work better giving us greater control over our breathing.
Breathing helps to bring about a state of relaxation, as we slow it down, we calm the nervous system, the movement of the breath affects the Vagus nerve. So as a preparation for relaxation, it is vital. Often if there is fear, upset or distress the diaphragm becomes tight and in spasm, breathing can bring about a release, which might be emotional as well as physical.
To summarise the benefits of breathing:
- Improves Lung capacity.
- Improves elasticity of the lung tissue.
- Benefits the Heart muscle.
- Improves the Circulation.
- Exercises the muscles of the chest and upper back.
- Releases the diaphragm.
- Helps to relax body and mind.
- Better oxygen exchange makes more energy available, therefore feel less tired.