Breathing techniques have been utilized for thousands of years by Indian yogis, who were among the first to uncover the healing effects of controlled breathing. These practices have only recently made their way into the mainstream culture through the practice of yoga. One breathing technique, known as pranayama, is believed to hold the key to better health and happiness. The health benefits of practicing pranayama have been well documented, and include decreased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as increased mental, emotional, and physical health.
What You Need To Know About Pranayama
Pranayama translates as “extension of the life force.” Through the ages, yogis discovered that by controlling their breath, they were able to better control their thoughts, emotions, and physical health. While most people are accustomed to shallow, rapid breathing, the pranayama technique uses full lung capacity, bringing conscious attention to the entire breathing process. Pranayama can be performed by almost anyone, but does take some practice. There are certain health conditions, however, such as asthma or bronchitis, in which pranayama may aggravate symptoms. If you have any concerns about this practice, it may be helpful to consult with your doctor or a yoga practitioner trained in pranayama.
Clinical Studies On the Health Benefits Of Pranayama
There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating the health benefits of deep breathing exercises such as pranayama. Studies have shown this deep breathing technique to be useful in alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder, while increasing concentration, improving cognitive functioning, cardiovascular health, and respiratory functioning. Pranayama has also been shown to increase circulation, physical energy, heart health, digestion, and immune functioning. A 2008 study from the Universidad Federal de San Paulo, in Brazil, examined the effects of pranayama breathing techniques on 22 participants suffering from anxiety. 14 of the participants were guided through daily pranayama exercises, while the remaining eight test subjects were assigned to the control group. At the completion of the study, all 14 participants who practiced pranayama reported a significant reduction in anxiety, depression, and tension, while also experiencing an increase in feelings of wellbeing.
Preparing For Your Pranayama Practice
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down where you will not be disturbed. Whether you are sitting or lying down, make sure that your spine is straight, and that you are comfortable. In order to keep your airways open, it is better that your chin drops forward slightly, rather than your head tilting up and back. It also may help to blow your nose beforehand, in order to clear your nasal passages before beginning the deep breathing exercise. Make sure that the air temperature in the room is comfortable. If the air is too warm or too cold, it may aggravate your breathing passages.
The Three-Step Breathing Process Of Pranayama
There are many different forms of pranayama that can be practiced. The following exercise is one of the basic techniques, and consists of three parts: belly, abdomen, and chest breathing. Before beginning pranayama take a few normal breaths, allowing your body to release any tension with the exhalation. Begin by taking a slow deep breath, allowing your belly to expand outward, drawing air down into the lowest part of your lungs. Breathe in a controlled yet relaxed manner, bringing your attention to your belly as it begins to expand. Now allow the air to begin filling your upper abdomen. This should still be part of the same breath. Once the upper belly is filled, move your attention to your chest, allowing the last portion of breath to fill your upper lungs. Allow your chest to expand and fill to capacity. The exhalation also follows these three steps, but in reverse. As you breathe out, feel the air leaving the top portion of your lungs first, followed by your abdomen, and then stomach. At the completion of your exhalation, take a slight pause to feel the stillness and sense of calm before taking your next breathe. This breathing process should be slow and natural, and should not cause any strain. Repeat this breathing exercise for 10-20 minutes every day. If at any point you feel light headed, reduce your speed of breathing, or the amount of air that you are inhaling.
With so many health benefits to practicing pranayama, it is a wonder that more people do not practice this breathing technique. Take the time to investigate for yourself the healing effects of deep breathing. It may take a while, however, to develop a smooth process of breathing in and out, without it feeling forced. For optimal results, practice pranayama daily, preferably in combination with a routine of yoga or meditation. If you are suffering from any acute medical condition of the respiratory system, please consult with your doctor before beginning pranayama.