The word Pranayama is comprised of two words- prana and ayama. Prana means “vital energy” or “life force”. It is the life force, which exists in all things, whether animated or unanimated. Ayama means “extension” or “expansion”. Thus, the word Pranayama means extension or expansion of the vital energy or life force.
Pranayama improves the quality of energy in the body, maintains good health, keeps mind in a peaceful state, maintains rhythmic breathing, removes stress and anxiety and increases longevity. Pranayama should not be practiced during illness.
Important aspects of Pranayama
The techniques of Pranayama provide the method whereby the life force can be activated and regulated in order to go beyond one’s normal boundaries and attain a higher state of vibratory energy. The yogic practice of Pranayama involves four important aspects of breathing. The different practices of Pranayama involve various techniques but utilize these four aspects of breathing.
- Poorak (inhalation)
- Kumbhaka (exhalation)
- Antar-kumbhaka (internal breath retention) and
- Bahir-kumbhaka (external breath retention).
Normal : Deep breath :: 500 ml (105 ml oxygen): 4800 ml (1050 ml oxygen)
- Effect on respiratory system: easy availability of O2
- With deep respiration, more oxygen is available to cells, including brain cells, which improves alertness, memory and concentration.
- Efficient removal of CO2 through diffusion
- Improved circulation due to massaging of internal organs
- Effect on mind – stimulating or calming effect
- Effect on mind for further sadhana
Respiration during yogic kriya
- Easy and effortless respiration during sukshma kriya and asana
- General rules of breathing
- Koombhak during asana
- Respiration during Static Poses
- As mind quietens, breath becomes calm, steady and subtle
The Yogic breathing
It is performed by enhancing the action of the diaphragm and minimising the action of the rib cage. During inhalation the diaphragm moves downward, pushing the abdominal contents downward and outward. During exhalation the diaphragm moves upward and the abdominal contents move inward.
causes equal expansion of Alveoli, improves lymphatic drainage from basal part of the lungs, massages the liver, stomach, intestines and other organs that lie immediately beneath it, exerts a positive effect on the cardiac functions and coronary supply, and improves oxygenation of the blood and circulation.
Thoracic breathing utilities the middle lobes of the lungs by expanding and contracting the rib cage. It expends more energy than abdominal breathing for the same quantity of air exchanged.
Helps the body to obtain more oxygen.
Clavicular breathing is the final stage of total rib cage expansion. It occurs after the thoracic inhalation has been completed. In order to absorb a little more air into the lungs, the upper ribs and the collarbone are pulled upwards by the muscles of the neck, throat and sternum. This requires maximum expansion on inhalation and only the upper lobes of the lungs are ventilated.
Helps the body to obtain extra oxygen, in situations such as asthma.
Yogic breathing combines the abdominal, thoracic and clavicular breathing. It is used to maximize inhalation and exhalation. Its purpose is to gain control of the breath.
Corrects poor breathing habits and increase oxygen intake. Yogic breathing is very useful in situations of high stress or anger for calming the nerves.
Effect on respiratory system
The positive effects of pranayama on respiration as claimed by ancient yogis, is now well supported by the modern medical researches. It is now widely acknowledged that a correct and regular practice of pranayama improves external (transportation of oxygen from outside environment to the blood stream and carbon dioxide from blood to the lungs) as well as internal (cellular respiration – transfer of oxygen from blood to the cells and carbon dioxide from cells to the blood stream) respiration.
Deep, regular, slow, uniform and soft breathing as practiced during pranayama, improves absorption of oxygen into the blood, thus improving the vitality and energy levels affecting all the body systems. Transfer of carbon dioxide from cells to blood and from blood to lungs also improves, effectively removing metabolic waste products from the body. More number of alveoli are functional resulting in increased lung capacity and better efficiency. This in tern results in less demand on the cardiovascular system. Conscious control of diaphragm during pranayama also results in stronger muscles of lungs and its accessory muscles, resulting in enhanced lung capacity, especially when there is an increased demand for respiration.
Effect on digestive system
Although Pranayama has many fold effects on all body systems, it affects the digestive system in three ways. Deep breathing due to conscious diaphragm control stimulates the organs of the digestive systems including pancreas, liver, gallbladder, resulting in better circulation of these organs, and assist in the peristalsis of the food stuff through the G.I. tract. G.I tract needs a large quantity of oxygen for proper functioning, which is adequately met due to proper breathing. This results in better functioning of the organs of the G.I. tract. Thirdly, pranayama seems to have a profound effect on body’s metabolism by strengthening and balancing the digestive fire or Agni. Proper Agni, according to Ayurveda, is very important for digestion, absorption and metabolism of the food stuff into cellular components, and excretion of the metabolic wastes from the body.
Effect on energy system (nadis/channels)
Pranayama affects the energy system in two ways. Brain, which controls the entire nervous system, needs a large quantity of blood for proper functioning. Without adequate quantity of oxygen, it becomes sluggish and dull. Pranayama improves the circulation of oxygen-enriched blood to the brain, thus vitalizing and energizing the entire nervous system.
More importantly, pranayama induces balancing of the autonomic nervous system (balancing of sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems), which results in a calm, quiet, relaxed and balanced mind. This co-relates with the balancing of Ida and Pingla nadis and opening up of the Shushumna nadi due to removal of blockages in the channels, which is an important step towards the path of purification of mind and higher achievements leading to liberation.
About the Author :
- Yoga Instructor at Nisargopachar Kendra
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