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Pranayama 101

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

The breath is essential to life. The average human takes about half a million breaths in their lifetime – most without conscious thought. Our breath is intimately connected with the mind and body. They share a symbiotic relationship; learning to breathe consciously and with awareness has the power of restoring balance in the mind and body.

The practice of pranayama finds its roots in ancient India. Around 6000 years ago, ancient rishis (sages) developed the breathwork of pranayama, along with the practices of yoga and meditation. The word pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words – prana (life force) and yama (discipline). Thus, like it’s literal meaning, pranayama expands the life force by using breath.

Pranayama can counter stress. When experiencing stressful thoughts, your sympathetic nervous system fires up the body’s fight-or-flight response. The perception of danger makes breathing shallow and rapid. Your body surges up hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (aka. adrenaline) which increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and put you in a state of high alert.

Deep breathing can reverse these symptoms instantly and calm the mind and body. With each long breath of oxygen that you inhale, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system – the rest-and-digest mode that counters the stress response in your body. This is all done via the vagus nerve – the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system, stimulated by deep breathing and in turn, slows down your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure and brings you that sense of tranquillity.

The famous Dutch athlete Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, uses breathing and its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system to combat all sorts of environmental stressors. He calls his breathing technique the Wim Hof Method (WMH), with its premise on the power of deep inhaling and exhaling. The amount of oxygen inhaled directly influences the amount of energy in our body’s cells. This feedback system has the capability of keeping your body in optimal condition and complete control through the utmost extreme conditions, like swimming under ice and running barefoot marathons on ice and snow.

Pranayama is simple – it’s using the timing, duration and frequency of our breath to control the energy channels in our bodies (called nadis). There are many different types of pranayama, but all share a common overall intention - to connect the mind and body. You can use different pranayama with different specific goals, like balancing the left and right brain hemispheres, restoring digestive flow, energizing for the day, and relaxing for bedtime.

Scientists can’t stop talking about pranayama – the physical, emotional, and mental benefits are outstanding and well-documented in literature. Listed below are some health benefits of pranayama that you can start experiencing by simply controlling your breath.

Decreases Stress – Individuals who did pranayama had less perceived stress and less anxiety before taking a test. This is because increased oxygen intake calms your vital organs, like your brain and nervous system, which improves the stress response.

Sharper Thinking – Breathing is often automatic, without much thought. Pranayama makes you aware of your breathing and brings your focus to the present moment, rather than the past or future. As result of its calming effect, students who practiced pranayama had higher levels mindfulness and emotional regulation than those who didn’t.

Better Sleep - Pranayama improved sleep quality in people with obstructive sleep apnea. It also reduced daytime sleepiness and snoring at night amongst the general population.

Lower Blood Pressure - Participants with mild hypertension experience a greater reduction in blood pressure after receiving pranayama training for 6 weeks than the group that received antihypertensive drugs for 6 weeks instead.

Lung Strengthening – The slow, forceful breathing of pranayama can strengthen your lungs by increasing chest wall expansion and making efficient use of abdominal and diaphragmatic muscles. It’s often used in the treatment and recovery process of various lung conditions, like asthma, allergic bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.

Immune Booster – Pranayama is designed in a way to exhale the toxins of your body just by breathing out; this detoxifies our body and enhances health. The practice of deep breathing uses the vitality of oxygen to strengthen our cells, tissues, glands, and organs, thereby improving your overall immune system.

At Practice Shraddha, we give you the opportunity to overcome by going within. Use any of our pranayama classes to calm your nervous system and slip into your meditation practice. Try out the classes offered below to guide you through your pranayama & sign up for your 7-day trial on Practice Shraddha if you haven’t done so already.

Savitra Pranayama (Slow Breathing)

Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Bee Breathing)

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Chandra Bhedana Prayama (Single Nostril Breathing)


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