Did you know that one’s respiratory rate is related with longevity? A mouse who breaths 60 – 150 breaths/min lives for about 1 to 3 years, a dog with 20 – 30 breaths/min lives up to 10 – 20 years, a human being whose respiratory rate is 12 – 16 breaths/min and has an average life span of 80 – 90 years while a tortoise who takes only 4 breaths/min is known to live up to 200 – 250 years? One could say that ageing is directly proportional to respiratory rate. Those who breathe in short, quick gasps are likely to have a shorter life span than those who breathe slowly and deeply.
We often feel a drop in energy and many of the times this is due to inappropriate breathing. Very often only a small portion of our lung is utilized for everyday breathing. This leads to inadequate supply of oxygen to the body resulting in improper waste disposal or carbon dioxide extraction from our body. As a result our body functions are slowed down and the cells fail to regenerate themselves due to lack of energy/ prana. Pranayama helps in utilizing the complete lung capacity and thus energizes the body and makes it rich in oxygen.
Pranayama is generally defined as control of breath. The word Pranayama comprises of two root words: “Prana” is breath/ vital energy and represents the life force and “Ayama” means to control, regulate or to expand. “Pranasya ayama iti Pranayama” – expansion of the dimension of Prana is Pranayama. Though pranayama is closely associated with the air that we breathe it’s much more subtle than just air. Hence Pranayama shouldn’t be considered as a mere breathing exercise but as a technique that employs breathing to influence the flow of prana in the “nadis” (energy channels) and energy centers called “chakras”.
The state of mind of an individual depends on the flow of prana in the nadis and chakras. Higher the level of prana, calmer is the mind. Improper breathing creates an obstructed flow of prana that leads to augmented worries, tensions and negative thoughts. Pranayama aids in regulating the life force to go beyond one’s own normal limitations and attain higher state of energy. Patanjali in Yoga sutra mentions that Pranayama is a means to attain higher level of consciousness. Pranayama creates a healthy body by removing blockages enabling an increased absorption of prana.
Conscious breathing forms a bridge between conscious and unconscious area of the mind. The energy that is stuck in the neurotic, unconscious mental arena is released by pranayama practice to perform a better, creative and joyous action.
Benefits of Pranayama
- Provides liberty from negative and harmful mental conditions such as anger, depression, greed, arrogance, stress, tension, sleeplessness, etc.
- Controls mind fluctuation.
- Pranayama increases life span.
- Improves blood circulation and detoxifies blood.
- Improves metabolic rate.
- Reduces tissue damage to the body as respiratory rate is slowed down and energy is consumed.
Preparing for Pranayama
- Best time for pranayama practice is early in the morning.
- Practice on an empty stomach or three hours after food.
- Always breathe through the nose and not the mouth unless you are doing specific breathing practice. When you inhale, your abdomen should bloat and when you exhale your abdomen has to sink. Be cautious about the breathing and observe your breathing throughout the practice.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing during the practice.
- A comfortable, sustainable posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. Body should be in very relaxed with erect spine, neck and head. Vajrasana (the Thunderbolt Pose), Siddhasana (accomplished Pose for men), Siddhayoni Asana (accomplished pose for women), Sukhasana (the easy sitting pose) or Padmasana (Lotus pose) are recommended posture that may be adopted while practicing Pranayama.
- Choose a well-ventilated, quite, clean and pleasant room for your practice.
- Avoid sitting in a room with fan or air-conditioning while practicing as this may alter body temperature.
- Pranayama should be done after yoga practice or a warm-up.
Mudras for Pranayama
There are two Mudras that are popularly used during pranayama. These help in a channelized flow of the prana.
Chin Mudra – The hands rest on knees or thighs facing down. The tip of the thumb touches the tip of the forefinger and the other three fingers are straight.
Nasika Mudra – Fold the index and middle fingers of the right hand into the center of the palm. Use the thumb to gently close the right nostril. Ring finger and little finger is used to close the left nostril.
‘Kapala’ in Sanskrit means skull and ‘Bhati’ means to shine. This Kriya cleanses the skull it is one of the Shat Kriya in Hatha Yoga.
Sit in the Padmasana pose, place your hands on knees and adopt Chin Mudra. Close your eyes and relax the body while your spine remains erect. Inhale deeply through both nostrils, expand the abdomen and exhale with forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. Do not strain yourself. The next inhalation takes place passively allowing abdominal muscles to expand. Perform 10 respirations to start with (mentally count respiration), after completing 10 rapid breaths in succession inhale and exhale deeply. This is counted as 1 round. Practice 3 to 5 rounds. Observe your eyebrow center and your mind after the practice.
It cleanses the respiratory system and the nasal passages and removes the spasm in bronchial tubes. It removes any sensory distractions from the mind.
Note: Kapalabhati shouldn’t be practiced by those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, pregnancy, during periods, epilepsy, stroke, gastric ulcer, hernia and vertigo.
NADI SHODHANA (Alternate nostril breathing)
Sit in the Vajrasana or Sukhasana pose and adopt Nasika Mudra. Close the right nostril with the right thumb and exhale completely through the left nostril. Then inhale deeply through the same left nostril.
Close the left nostril with your ring and little finger (using nasika mudra) and release the right nostril; now exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril. Inhale deeply through the same right nostril. Then close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. This is counted as 1 round of Nadisuddhi pranayama. Repeat for 9 rounds.
This practice helps in cleansing both the nasal tract and increases vitality. It improves metabolism. It lowers the stress level and provides harmony. It’s very efficient in asthma, nasal allergy, bronchitis.
Sit in the Padmasana or Siddhasana pose with your spine erect. In order to practice Bhramari pranayama, touch the tip of your tongue to the top of the palate. Close your mouth and chant ‘Ma-kara’. Inhale through your nose and while exhaling chant ‘Ma’ with your mouth closed as said above. To chant Ma you can chant any word ending with M such as OM, Mum, etc. To start with 5 to 10 rounds of Bhramari is sufficient. Slowly one could go up to 15 minutes of practice. Always remember that your lips should be closed and the rows of teeth should be separated and the tongue is just behind the lower set of teeth.
It creates a soothing effect on the nervous system, Relieves stress, anger, anxiety and insomnia.
There are many other kinds of Pranayama practices. That mentioned above are very basic and for beginners. A well trained guru will help you in practicing advance level of Pranayama.