From the Sanskrit words Prana (“life force” or “vital energy”) and Yama (“control”), the practice dates back to ancient India since 700 BCE. It includes a variety of breathing patterns and techniques that boost both your physical—respiratory, cardiovascular, metabolic, and your emotional—stress, anxiety, concentration health. Our breathing directly affects our nervous system via the vagus nerve, which governs our fight or flight and rest and relaxation responses as well as our cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems. In other words, the way we breathe controls just about everything. You can also find Prana in food such as ash gourd, honey, coconut, whole grains, beans, lentils, millet, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, dried fruits, and fresh vegetables.
The benefits of pranayama.
The immune system: Deep breathing activates our digestive tracts, where as much as 80 percent of our immune tissue lives. Breath retention significantly increases our count of white blood cells, which are the first to attack infections and viruses.
Reduce anxiety and depression: When activated, it increases levels of Gamma-aminobutyric acid, (GABA) in our bodies, the neurotransmitter that helps us unwind.
Respiratory: Breath control improves lung function and capacity for healthy individuals and those with asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Digestive: IBS, diarrhea, and hyperacidity are disorders closely linked to brain activity. These symptoms subside with consistent breathing practice, thanks to its calming effects.
Cardiovascular: pranayama has an immediate and positive effect on your blood circulation, heart rate and blood pressure.
Sinuses: Certain techniques help clear our nasal cavity and create ventilation, improving allergies, sinus infections, congestion, and sinus headaches.
Sleep: Deep breathing slows your heart rate and relaxes your mind. This improves sleep quality and combats insomnia.
Weight loss: Deep and forceful breathing quickens our metabolism and activates abdominal muscles increasing oxygen supply.
Skincare: When we hold an inhale, retained breath supplies oxygen to our skin cells. This increases the blood thrush and detoxifies our blood, improving skin appearance and preventing premature ageing like wrinkles and sunspots.
How to practice pranayama?
The best times to practice Pranayama is with an empty stomach either at dawn, before sunset or sleep, when you’re stressed or tensed. Try to commit to 10 or 15 minutes a day, and slowly build up to longer sessions, but you must listen to your body. Never force or rush the breath, unless it’s part of the technique of course, and if you feel dizzy stop and rest. Loose-fitting cotton clothes allow freedom of movement during the practice.
There are a host of different practices and styles of pranayama, which include lots of techniques and breathing patterns, each with their own unique benefits. The seven different techniques for beginners are Kumbhaka, Kapalabhati, Nadi Shodhana, Alternate Nostril Kapalabhati, Dirgha Pranayama, Ujjayi Pranayama, Simha Pranayama. I will just touch on the first three essential techniques.
First, it would be a good idea to blow your nose, then sit in a comfortable, relaxed position, some Pranayama techniques allow you to lay down. Follow the rhythm of your natural breath then when you’re ready, begin your Pranayama session.
1. Kumbhaka or “Full Breath Retention”
Best for: An immune boost
“Full breath retention” presents dozens of benefits, like increased lung capacity, brain tissue regeneration, and reduced inflammation. Most importantly, though, it increases oxygen and CO2 levels in our bodies, nourishing our white blood cells to fight off infection and viruses.
Sit or lay down comfortably. Begin following a 1-1-2 pattern. For example, inhale through the nose for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, exhale through the nose for 10 counts. With practice, begin to increase the retention (hold) for a ratio of 1-2-2 or 1-3-2. Soon it will become easier to inhale for 5, hold for 10, exhale for 10. When you feel ready you can increase to inhaling for 5, holding for 15, exhaling for 10, and so on.
2. Kapalabhati or “Skull-Shining Breath”
Best for: Reviving energy and giving you a little glow
Also known as “breath of fire,” this model improves concentration, aids in digestive functioning, quickens our metabolism, and gives you that glowy complexion. It also warms the body, which is good if you’re in a cold place. Practice this one when you need a little energy reboot.
Sit comfortably (cross-legged or on your knees), resting your hands on your thighs. Inhale and exhale fully through the nose. Then, inhale halfway and begin forcefully exhaling in short bursts through the nose, pulling your belly in. You could place a hand on your belly to feel contraction and expansion. Continue for 20-30 exhales, then breathe in fully, retaining the breath for as long as you can, and finally, slowly exhaling. Repeat the cycle for 10 to 15 minutes, on your last breath bring your right thumb up to your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
3. Nadi Shodhana or “Alternate Nostril Breathing”
Best for: Unwinding before bed or trying to calm down
This technique can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Try it when you are angry, frustrated, or fed up, just before bed or even before you eat. There are many variations of breathing and nostril holding, but here I will explain the easiest one.
Sit, with crossed legs or on your knees, or lie comfortably. Bring your right thumb to your right nostril and your ring and pinky fingers to your left. Your index and middle fingers can rest on the bridge of your nose or fold them down toward your thumb. Exhale completely. Using your thumb, press on the right nostril and inhale through the left, then exhale through the left. Close the left nostril, and inhale through the right and exhale through the right to complete one cycle. Repeat for 10-12 cycles.
Take your time, relax and enjoy the flow as prana fills your body with vital energy. Soon you will become more calm and happy, and you will start to notice the beauty and colours of all the things around you that you never noticed before, as you become more mindful and conscious.
Breathe and enjoy.