Intro to Pranayama: 3 Styles to Get Started
The breath plays a vital role. We know that without breath, there is no life. Did you know that Pranayama can help control the breath? If you are new to yoga practices, you might be wondering about the meaning, definition, history, benefits, and more about Pranayama. Read below if you want an Introduction to Pranayama, read below!
History of Pranayama
Pranayama, the yogic art of breathing, comes from the root words prana and ayama in Sanskrit. Prana means “life force” and ayama means “expansion, manifestation, or prolongation.” These techniques involve breathing through the nostrils in a specific pattern of inhalation, breath retention, exhalation.
Pranayama is the fourth anga, or limb, in the Yoga Sutras. In yoga, prana also represents the physical forces of light, heat, magnetism, and energy. A strong pranayama breath is also believed to help detoxify your body. When we work on freeing the breath through pranayama, we are also working on letting the life energy flow through the body.
Introduction to Pranayama
Pranayama is breath control on the physical level and prana control on the subtle level. This is achieved through conscious inhalation (puraka), exhalation (recaka), and retention (kumbhaka) of breath along with focused attention on some part or area of the physical or subtle body, such as the heart or sixth chakra (the so-called “third eye”) in the middle of the forehead.
Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama improves the circulation, purifies the lungs, provides physiological support for the liver, spleen, and kidney, stimulates peristalsis, sharpens the intellect, and improves memory. Science tells us that pranayama is also effective in treating conditions of the respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. Overall, Pranayama goes a step further than a simple awareness of the breath, using specific rhythms and techniques to bring us numerous benefits on the mental, emotional, and physical levels.
- Calms the mind, reducing worries and anxieties
- Improves focus and attention, removing brain fog
- Increases energy, bringing enthusiasm and positivity
- Boosts the immune system
- Rejuvenates the body and mind
- May even slow down the aging process
“When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still.”
Types of Pranayama
It is helpful to know your vikruti (current state of balance) before beginning the practice of pranayama. This information can help inform which breathing practice will be most appropriate for you. Pranayama practices have both slow and fast variations. While there are many different types of pranayama practices, three popular ones are:
- Bhastrika pranayama, or bellow breath, is used to boost energy levels.
- Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril technique, is believed to center your mind.
- Bhramari pranayama, or Bumble Bee breath, is used to help calm the mind and racing thoughts.
Preparing for Pranayama: an introduction
- Do it first thing in the morning.
- Perform pranayama on an empty stomach.
- If weather and space permits, pranayama practiced outdoors in fresh air is more beneficial.
- Turn off your phone and every gadget that might be a distraction.
- You can create a sacred ritual for your pranayama practice.
- Practice pranayama at the same time every day.
- Don’t attempt to progress too quickly as you might injure yourself.
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NOTE: Before practicing breathing exercises with breath holds, check with your medical doctor to be sure you are a candidate for such a practice.