“The mind & body are not separate entities. The gross form of the mind is the body & the subtle form of the body is the mind. The practice of asana integrates & harmonizes the two. Both the body & the mind harbor tensions or knots. Every mental knot has a corresponding physical, muscular knot & vice versa. The aim of asana is to release these knots. Asana release mental tensions by dealing with them on the physical level, acting somato-psychically, through the body to the mind.”Swami Satyananda Saraswati
You may have heard about Pranayama and know it has something to do with breathing and meditation. In this article, I explain everything you need to know about Pranayama to understand the basics.
What does Pranayama mean?
Pranayama is generally defined as breath control.
The word Pranayama means the Extension of the dimensions of Prana.
Prana: Universal or Life Energy
During the Pranayama practice, you practice breathing exercises involving control over the pace of your breath, the length of your in- and exhales, and hold your breath in specific sequences.
The goal of pranayama is to connect your body and mind. It also supplies your body with oxygen while removing toxins. This is meant to provide healing physiological benefits.
What are the advantages of Pranayama?
- Pranayama calms your nervous systems and therefore decreases stress levels.
- Reduced anxiety – I personally practice Pranayama before presentations and tests.
- Refreshed Oxygen energizes your vital organs, including your brain and nerves.
- Slows down breathing and heart rate – Improves your sleep and may even decrease snoring.
- Higher quality of rest – reduces tiredness during the day
- You learn how to focus on the present moment
- It helps to practice the connection with your inner self.
- Improves concentration
- Stress is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. Pranayama can help minimize this risk by promoting relaxation.
- The slow, forceful breathing of pranayama may strengthen your lungs.
- Benefits your overall health – Slow breathing increases the lifespan.
To underline the list of benefits, Pranayama practices establish a healthy body by removing blockages in the Pranayama Kosha (the energy body), enabling increased absorption and retention of Prana. During the practices, you establish control over prana flow and calm the mind. Once the mind is still and the Prana flows, the consciousness opens, and you may experience higher dimensions of spirituality.
The Pranayama Practice
There are four aspects of breathing in the Pranayama practice.
- Pooraka – Inhalation
- Rechaka – Exhalation
- Antar Kumbhaka – Internal breath retention
- Bahir Kumbhaka – External breath retention
Another Pranayama mode, called Kevaka Kumbahaka – spontaneous breath retention is an advanced stage of Pranayama, which occurs during a high state of meditation.
Make sure you are sitting in a comfortable mediation position. The body should be as relaxed as possible throughout the practice with an upright spine, head, and neck. If you can not sit in a meditation posture, may sit in a chair with a straight back.
Ideally, Pranayama is practiced in a quiet, clean, and pleasant room with a comfortable temperature. Avoid practicing in the sun, except at sunset or dawn. Avoid practicing in strong winds, under air-conditioning, or under fans as it may cause chill and upset the body.
Always breathe through the nose, not the mouth – unless you receive other instructions for special exercises.
Pranayama should be practiced as long as it is comfortable, do not force yourself; take your time to master the Pranayama. Do not practice with any discomfort or strain. It takes time, and you will sense the progress gradually.
Practice before eating with an empty stomach or at least three to four hours after eating.
The best time to practice is in the morning, at dawn, when the mind is still fresh and not influenced by daily events. Another good time is right after sunset.
Do not practice Pranayama during illness. Various side effects may manifest in normally healthy people. These are caused by the process of purification and the expulsion of toxins.
Sensations of itching, tingling, heat or cold, and feelings of lightness or heaviness may occur.