Pranayama, the practice of yogic breathing, can have profoundly beneficial effects on the brain and body. This foundational aspect of the study of yoga involves controlling the breath in order to create awareness, focus, and balance in the mind-body connection. A regular pranayama practice can help reduce stress and provide a more calm and centered state of being.
What does Pranayama Mean?
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that is made up to two parts. Prana is the life force that surrounds us and is also defined as the act of bringing forth breathing. Ayama means to extend, elongate, restrain, or expand. When these two words are combined, they define the act of pranayama, where the breath is manipulated through various exercises to balance out the nervous system.
The Benefits of Pranayama
When practiced correctly with the guidance of a qualified instructor, pranayama has the power to alter the ability of the nervous system to deal with emotions, trauma, and psychosomatic experiences that affect the physical body. Some of the benefits of yogic breathing include:
- Stabilized blood pressure
- Muscular relaxation
- Decreased levels of anxiety and depression
- Stress reduction
- Increase in energy levels
Pranayama for Beginners
The most basic form of pranayama is called ujjayi breathing. This is the type of breathing typically performed during asana practice, and is the ideal way to begin to consciously connect with your breath. It is performed through the nose with a slight constriction at the back of the throat to create an audible quality like the sound of air being let out of a tire. Although the breath moves through the nose, the breath actually comes from the back of the throat.
Start by practicing this type of breathing in a seated or standing position to get used to the control at the glottis. Once you've managed to learn how to elongate your breath with ujjayi pranayama, use it in your asana practice to stay focused and aware of your physical movements.
Other Forms of Pranayama
There are many different pranayama practices passed down from the ancient yoga masters, but many of them are advanced and require serious commitment to the practice of yoga and the instruction from a highly qualified and experienced teacher. Some that you may find yourself exploring in yoga class are Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, Viloma, the pranayama that begins to introduce intentional retentions in the breath, and Surya Bhedhana andChandra Bhedhana. Always make sure to seek proper guidance when taking of the practice of new pranayama techniques, and stop your practice immediately if you start to feel anxious or unsettled by it.
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