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Pranayama Yoga Breathing Benefits For Health

Prana is the Sanskrit word for ‘breath’ and Yama means ‘control’. As the name suggests, pranayama is the practice of controlling your breathing pattern in order to improve your physical and mental well-being. It involves inhaling, exhaling and holding your breath for a variety of different time intervals to remove carbon dioxide from your body and improve the flow of oxygen to the brain cells. This results in enhanced memory, focus and other cognitive abilities. People perform pranayama in conjunction with yoga poses, to reap better results from them. Any good yoga guru will, therefore, guide you on the breathing pattern for every asana he demonstrates.

What are the benefits according to science?

The benefits of pranayama have been extensively researched.

According to scientific studies, pranayama may benefit your health in a variety of different ways. Let’s look at seven of these benefits in more detail.

1. Decreases stress

In a 2013 study, pranayama reduced perceived stress levels in healthy young adults. The researchers speculated that pranayama calms the nervous system, which improves your stress response.

Another 2013 study found similar benefits. Individuals who practiced pranayama experienced less anxiety before taking a test.

The authors of the study linked this effect to the increased oxygen uptake during pranayama. Oxygen is energy for your vital organs, including your brain and nerves.

pranayama

2. Improves sleep quality

The stress-relieving effects of pranayama may also help you sleep.

In clinical studies, a technique known as Bhramari pranayama was shown to slow down breathing and heart rate when practiced for 5 minutes. This may help calm your body for sleep.

According to a 2019 study, pranayama also improves sleep quality in people with obstructive sleep apnea. Additionally, the study found that practicing pranayama decreased snoring and daytime sleepiness, suggesting benefits for better quality rest.

pranayama

3. Increases mindfulness

For many of us, breathing is automatic. We do it without giving it much thought at all.

But during pranayama, you need to be aware of your breathing and how it feels. You also practice focusing on the present moment, instead of the past or future. This is known as mindfulness.

In a 2017 study, students who practiced pranayama displayed higher levels of mindfulness than those who didn’t. The same students also showed better levels of emotional regulation. This was associated with the calming effect of pranayama, which supports your ability to be more mindful.

The researchers also mentioned that pranayama helps remove carbon dioxide and raises oxygen concentration, which fuels brain cells. This may contribute to mindfulness by improving focus and concentration.

4. Reduces high blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when your blood pressure reaches an unhealthy level. It increases the risk for some potentially serious health conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Stress is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. Pranayama can help minimize this risk by promoting relaxation.

In a 2014 study, participants with mild hypertension received antihypertensive drugs for 6 weeks. Half the participants also received pranayama training for 6 weeks. By the end of the study, the latter group experienced a greater reduction in blood pressure.

This effect, according to the study authors, is likely due to the mindful breathing of pranayama.

When you concentrate on your breathing, it can help calm your nervous system. This, in turn, may help reduce your stress response and risk of hypertension.

pranayama

5. Improves lung function

As a type of breathing exercise, the slow, forceful breathing of pranayama may strengthen your lungs.

One 2019 study determined that 6 weeks of practicing pranayama for 1 hour a day could have a significant effect on lung function. The practice improved multiple parameters of lung function, according to pulmonary test results.

According to the authors of the study, pranayama may be a useful lung strengthening tool for many lung conditions, including:

  • asthma
  • allergic bronchitis
  • for recovery from pneumonia and tuberculosis

6. Enhances cognitive performance

In addition to benefiting your lungs, pranayama may also enhance your brain function.

2013 study found that 12 weeks of slow or fast pranayama improved executive function — which includes your working memory, cognitive flexibility, and reasoning skills.

The study also found that pranayama has the ability to improve your perceived level of stress and your reaction time.

Additionally, the study found that fast pranayama was associated with better auditory memory and sensory-motor performance.

According to the researchers, these benefits are due to the stress-lowering effects of pranayama. The increased oxygen uptake, which energizes brain cells, likely plays a role as well.

7. Reduces cigarette cravings

There’s evidence that yogic breathing, or pranayama, could decrease cravings in people who are trying to quit smoking.

In a 2012 study, just 10 minutes of yogic breathing caused a short-term reduction in cigarette cravings.

A recent study found that mindfulness-based yoga breathing decreased the negative effects associated with smoking withdrawal.

How can I practice?

Pranayama is good for everyone irrespective of their age, but for some people, it’s all the more helpful. Those suffering from high blood pressure, for example, can greatly benefit from practicing Pranayama regularly. By regulating your breath, you can lower your blood pressure. Moreover, Pranayama is a highly effective tool to lose weight. The increased supply of oxygen to your muscles boosts your metabolic rate, resulting in faster fat burn. There are various ways of doing pranayama. Mentioned below are some of the most popular ones:

Types of Pranayama Yoga Infographic

Natural Breathing

Natural breathing is the first step of pranayama. It involves becoming aware of your natural breath – and observing everything from its depth to its temperature. Without this awareness, you wouldn’t have the knowledge about which part of your breathing process requires more work.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete focus to your breath.
  • Become aware of the air entering your nostrils – whether it becomes smoother or deeper when it enters your lung, and how hot/cold it is when you exhale.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Basic Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing has to be practised for a few minutes before pranayama to increase the flow of oxygen and nutrients to all your muscles and relieve spasms and stiffness if any. Thanks to the modern lifestyle, not many people take breaths as deep as this practice requires. But once they start doing it, they realize just how beneficial it is.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Place your right palm on your chest and your left palm, on your stomach.
  • Take a deep breath in. As you do this, your diaphragm should push downwards and make your belly pop out.
  • Exhale slowly. As you do this, your diaphragm should move upward to its original position and make your belly go back inside.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Thoracic Breathing

Unlike abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing requires shifting the focus to your chest and observing how the air you inhale travels in your lung before it’s blown out. It’s more focused on the movement of the ribcage, as opposed to the stomach. This is an effective way to increase lung capacity and release stiffness in the neck, upper back and other parts of the upper body.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Place one palm on your chest.
  • Take a deep breath in. As you do this, your ribcage should expand outwards.
  • Breathe out slowly and let your ribcage return to its original position.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Clavicular Breathing

Clavicular breathing is usually paired with thoracic breathing, for they both focus on the movement of the chest. However, their technicalities are slightly different. Clavicular breathing goes one step further than thoracic breathing by not only requiring you to expand and contract your ribcage as you breathe in and out respectively, but also moving your upper chest and shoulders slightly upward to make room for more air to enter. This is great in moments of high stress and anxiety.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Place one palm on your chest.
  • Take a deep breath in. As you do this, your ribcage should expand outwards and slightly upwards.
  • Breathe out slowly and let your ribcage return to its original position.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Yogic Breathing

Yogic breathing is an amalgamation of abdominal, thoracic and clavicular breathing. It involves expanding both your abdomen and chest, in that order, to make room for as much oxygen to flow in your system as possible. However, the practice has to feel smooth and seamless, avoiding any jerks and strains.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Take a deep breath in. Firstly, your abdomen should expand to its full capacity, followed by your chest and then finally, there should be a slight upward movement of your collar bones.
  • When you exhale, first relax your collar bones, then your chest and finally your abdomen.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Deep Breathing With Ratios

Deep breathing, in pranayama, as a foundation, requires you to focus on the movement of your abdomen and chest when you breathe. As you inhale, the abdomen and chest should move outward and as you exhale, they should go back in. At the same time, you have to time your inhalations and exhalations. You can start with 2:2 seconds, and then go up to 3:3 and 4:4. Once you’re comfortable with this count, you can prolong your exhalations and try a 4:6 or 4:8.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Breathe in for four seconds. Let your abdomen and chest expand as you do this.
  • Breathe out for four seconds. Relax your abdomen and chest as you do this.
  • Continue this for a few minutes.

Fast Breathing

In, pranayama, fast breathing helps throw all the toxins out of your body and gives a massage to your lungs, heart and digestive organs, thus making them stronger and more efficient. There are various ways to perform fast breathing: You can close one nostril and breathe in and out of the other, or simply alternate between your two nostrils. It’s good to do a combination of them all.

Follow these steps:

  • Sit down on the floor in a comfortable position.
  • Keep your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Turn your complete attention to your breath.
  • Breathe in through your left nostril, and breathe out from the right.
  • Now breathe in through your right nostril, and breathe out from the left.
  • Continue this in a fast motion for a few minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What are the 6 types of pranayama?

A. The 6 types of pranayama are natural breathing, basic abdominal breathing, thoracic breathing, clavicular breathing, deep breathing and fast breathing. Each of them has its own rules and benefits, but they all essentially boil down to breath regulation.

Q. Which pranayama is best for beginners?

A. Dirga Pranayama is the most beginner-friendly among all. All you need to do is lie down on your back with a thick blanket or towel placed over your belly, making it move up as you breathe in and down when you breathe out.

Q. How many minutes should we do pranayama?

A. For the best results, pranayama should be performed for a good 45 minutes. As you make progress, you can go up to 2 hours. However, make sure you’re not straining your body at any point.

Q. When should you not do pranayama?

A. Never do pranayama immediately after a meal, as the rigorous inflow and outflow of air can mess with the digestive process. Keep a minimum gap of 3 hours after your meals to practice pranayama.

Sources:

https://www.femina.in/wellness/health/yoga-is-the-key-to-perfect-health-224879.html

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-70143-001

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939514/

https://www.jcdr.net/articles/PDF/1861/6%20-%203476.(A).pdf

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21446363/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793008/

https://www.healthline.com/health/-benefits#healthier-brain

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