Pranayama is such a valid part of the yogic tradition that has been practised for centuries. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the praṇ or breath” or, “extension of the life force“. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prana, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, and “ayam”, to extend or draw out. I find pranayama so beneficial for my own body, when I feel overwhelmed, or like my mind is running crazy, or even nervous, if I practice specific pranayama exercises I can physically feel my body relaxing. Trust me guys this stuff really works!
A few reasons to make pranayama part of your daily yogic ritual:
- Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies. Oxygen is essential for the proper and efficient functioning of the brain, nerves, Glands and other internal organs. We can survive without food for weeks and without water for days, but without oxygen we will die within a few minutes. If the brain does not get proper supply of this essential nutrient, it will cause degradation of all the vital organs of the body. The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ. If it doesn’t get enough, the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, vision and hearing declines.
- Pranayama helps you retrain your body to breath into ALL of your lungs. In our modern life we tend to assume positions such as slouching that diminishes lung capacity to function properly, which result to shortened breaths. When we feel nervous or stressed we take short quick breaths and hold stale air in our bodies. Pranayama teaches us how to breath into all of the lungs, and your body’s muscle memory remembers, so every time you take a full conscious breath you are reprogramming your body for health and vitality.
- When you slowdown your breath you extent your life BY YEARS! Shallow breathing does not exercise the lungs enough, so they lose some of their function, causing a further reduction in vitality. We are not taking in sufficient oxygen and we are not eliminating sufficient carbon dioxide. As a result, our bodies are oxygen starved, and a toxic build-up occurs. Every cell in the body requires oxygen and our level of vitality is just a product of the health of all the cells. Animals which breathe slowly live the longest; the elephant is a good example. We need to breathe more slowly and deeply.Quick shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation which leads to reduced vitality, premature ageing, poor immune system and a myriad of other factors. So deep slow breaths equals a long happy life.
How to do it:
There are many different ways to practice pranayama and each of them have different affects on the body. There are pranayama exercises, to energise the body, to calm the body, even exercises that you can practice when fasting to make you feel full so you don’t need food and you can focus on spiritual growth instead of the distractions of domestic chores. I will share with you one pranayama exercise and this is probably the most commonly used and most well known one.
To practise Ujjayi breath take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while gently constricting your throat muscles. When practised correctly it sounds a bit like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open, like you were trying to fog up a window. Now make a similar sound but close your mouth, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
Once you have mastered this breath in a seated position try and incorporate it into your yoga practice. This is also a great technique to try if you are feeling nervous or stressed about something, a job interview or a big presentation, as it is a calming breath. It also provides metal clarity and focus so you will be present and ready to face whatever life throws at you.
Give this pranayama exercise a go this week and let me know how you feel in the comments below.