Today's hectic lifestyle is pushing more and more people towards Yoga. One of the main components of yoga, Pranayama is an exercise for breath regulation and is aimed at mental plus physical wellness. It involves different breathing exercises and patterns. Derived from the Sanskrit language, the word “prana” means vital life energy and “yama” means to gain control. In yoga, breath is linked with the prana and hence pranayama means to elevate the prana shakti or life energies.
Pranayama is the yogic practice of focusing on one's breath. Pranayama is the fourth pillar of the 8-limb meditative path mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. One is required to purposely inhale, exhale and hold their breath in a certain sequence. It's the ancient practice of controlling one's breath. You are required to control the timing, duration and frequency of each breath and hold. Breath is considered to be the most vital form of prana or the energy's flow in the body. The ultimate goal of pranayama is to form a connection between the mind and body. It provides the body with oxygen and flushes off all the toxins. This results in providing healing physiological benefits to the individual.
Pranayama involves various different breathing techniques. Examples:
These different breathing patterns can be practiced in numerous ways. For instance, one can perform them while doing yoga poses.
As mentioned previously, Pranayama is highly effective to boost our overall health. It benefits our wellness in a variety of different ways. Today we uncover some of the several benefits our wellness gets through pranayama.
1. Reduce stress
In a study conducted in 2013, pranayama was found to be causing a reduction in stress levels. It was proven that pranayama works to calm the nervous system which improves the stress response. Another study was concluded after finding similar benefits. Individuals who practiced suffered less anxiety before taking the tests. This effect was an outcome of the increased oxygen uptake during pranayama. Oxygen is the much-needed energy for our vital organs, including the nerves and brain.
2. Boosts the immune system
The diaphragmatic movement helps in stimulating the movement of the lymph - fluid containing white blood cells. It was shown by preliminary studies that combining breath retention with your practice also helps in improving immune function. A weak immune system is an outcome of stress as well. It works to calm the nervous system, condition the respiratory lungs and stimulate the lymphatic system.
3. Reduce high blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is the condition in which the blood pressure reaches an unhealthy level. It puts the individual at the risk for some potentially serious health problems such as stroke and heart diseases. Stress is a major contributor to high blood pressure. Pranayama helps in reducing this risk by promoting relaxation. The mindful breathing of pranayama leads to a reduction in blood pressure levels.
4. Improves the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
A study was carried out to test the effects of pranayama for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Done in the year 2004, its results were significant as they concluded that “yoga breath-based interventions can assist to relieve psychological distress following mass disasters.” It is proven to reduce physiological arousal in PSTD patients. It also results in improving somatic regulation and body awareness - imperative to the regulation of emotions.
5. Improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia
Slow, deep pranayama exercises are proven to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia. Yes, the stress-relieving effects of pranayama will help you sleep better. A technique named Bhramari pranayama in the clinical studies is shown as a way to slow down your breathing and heart rate. This will allow you to calm your body for better sleep. When practiced consistently before bed, it can even reduce insomnia.
6. Enhances cognitive performance
Apart from benefiting your overall health, pranayama also enhances the functioning of your brain. A study found out that 12 weeks of pranayama improves executive functioning. It includes reasoning skills, working memory and cognitive flexibility. Pranayama has proven ability to improve the perceived stress levels and reaction time. Moreover, fast pranayama is associated with better sensory-motor performance and auditory memory. The increased oxygen updates end up energizing the brain cells.
7. Improves the digestive system function
Pranayama activates the diaphragm - the dome-shaped muscle that is located under the lungs and above the digestive and internal organs. The act of breathing during pranayama causes the diaphragm to rise and fall. This movement results in causing a gentle massage on the organs. Bhastrika pranayama is very effective for people who suffer from stomach-related issues like acidity, indigestion and gas. This effective breathing technique helps in bringing all the doshas (Vata, Kapha and Pitta) into balance.
8. Strengthens the respiratory system
As a type of breathing exercise, the slow and forceful way of breathing in pranayama can make your lungs stronger. A study conducted in 2019 determined that practicing pranayama an hour each day for 6 weeks can have a significant effect on lung function. Every time you practice pranayama, you give your lungs a workout, improving their health plus capacity. Pranayama has the potential to be a useful tool for lung conditions like asthma, allergic bronchitis and recovery from pneumonia/tuberculosis.
Pranayama is one of the most vital components of yoga. It's often even practiced with meditation and yoga postures. The goal of pranayama is to make the connection between your mind and body stronger. Researches have proven that pranayama can promote mindfulness and relaxation. It's also known to support several aspects of physical health such as brain function, blood pressure, and lung function. It's an effective medium to enhance your overall health.