One of the most profound ways we can effect change in our physical and emotional body is through the way we control our breath. In yoga and Ayurveda, we call this pranayama. ‘Prana’ refers to the life force energy within us that nourishes our mind and keeps the body alive and ‘Ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Simply put, pranayama is the practice of working with your breath. We all breathe. It’s a critical aspect of human life. You can survive up to three weeks without food and up to three days without water. But just three minutes without oxygen, and most bodies begin to break down. Breath is just that important to us.
Our brains are hard-wired to pay close attention to how we are breathing. If we are breathing quickly, our body ramps up systems to prepare for action. If we are breathing slowly and deeply, our body takes this as a cue to relax and replenish. Through the act of controlled, regulated breathing … through pranayama, we can affect our innate body systems. We can clear any physical or emotional blockages in our mind or body and allow for the free flow of that beautiful prana or life energy. In Ayurveda we also use various breathing practices to help address any mind/body imbalances.
Prana flows through thousands of subtle energy channels called ‘nadis’ and energy centers called ‘chakras’. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through the nadis and chakras determines our state of mind. If the prana level is high and its flow is continuous, smooth and steady, the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic. However, if these nadis or chakras are blocked due to lack of knowledge and attention to our breath, it leads to a jerky and broken flow. We experience increased worry, fear, tension and other negative qualities. Every problem first generates in the subtle and then surfaces on the physical level. Sickness shows up in your prana much before you get sick physically.
Attending to the quantity and quality of your prana every day through the regular practice of pranayama will have enormous benefit for your energy, positivity, focus & concentration. It will help to reduce stress & tension and bring harmony to the body, mind, and spirit … protecting your physical, emotional and spirtual wellbeing.
These breathing techniques can be practiced with ease and at any time of the day on an empty stomach:
Some such as Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath) are energizing and detoxing with a fast rhythm and strong abdominal contractions to expel the breath.
Others are balancing or relaxing like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) or Sama Vritti (Equal Breathing) where inhalations and exhalations are equal length.
What’s the best way to start?
To realise all the incredible benefits of pranayama, it is a good idea to build it into your daily routine. Make it a normal, natural part of your morning pattern and every action you take for the rest of the day will have more energy and focus. Your sleep that evening will be fuller and richer. That will ensure you wake up the next morning full of vitality, and the cycle improves day by day.
Which pranayama is for you?
In Ayurveda we are constantly working with the natural rhythms and cycles of nature to bring about balance in the body. We alter our diet in line with the season and to address any imbalances. It is the same for our pranayama practice. We move through different pranayama as the seasons change and to address any imbalance in our doshas. Join us on Instagram this week as we share three pranayama practices in more detail.
Author: Lisa Clegg