Pranayama is the fourth limb of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga, as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and consists of gaining mastery over the breathing process. The word pranayama is derived from the Sanskrit words prana, meaning life-force, and ayama, meaning control.
What is the Meaning of Pranayama?
According to Sage Patanjali, pranayama is the art of extending, stretching and restraining the life force, or prāṇā, by controlling our breathing. More specifically, to master control of inhaling, exhaling and retaining the breath during each cycle.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali presents pranayama as an exercise one performs that is preliminary to concentration, and helps focus through breath control (specifically in the verses 2.49-2.51). An example could be to focus on the rest period right after we inhale (antara) and just before we exhale – and learn to use this control to elevate the state of mind.
Importance of Prana
According to Sage Patanjali, prana is the energy of the universe, or the sum of all the energy present in the cosmos. It is what constitutes our surroundings, and is also the life force that keeps us alive.
Benefits of Pranayama
Sage Patanjali mentions the benefits of pranayama in verses 2.52 and 2.53 in the Yoga Sutras. There are many benefits of practicing pranayama, or the art of breath control:
– Strengthens the body’s respiratory system, and keeps it healthy as we age
– Helps regulate and slow down the heart rate, or pulse. A recent Harvard study proves that people with a slower heartbeat live longer.
– Helps control one’s emotional state of mind. Breath is almost always affected when someone is stressed or anxious, and the emotional state of mind can affect breathing, and in turn, affect the mind. Controlling one’s breath can literally change the emotional state of mind, and provide greater control of the mind and body.
– Improves blood circulation
– Increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and brain
4 Processes of Pranayama
The 4 processes of Pranayama are:
1. Puraka ( Prolonged Inhalation)
2. Kumbhaka (Prolonged Inhalation and Retention)
3. Rechaka (Prolonged Exhalation)
4. Sunyaka or Prolonged Exhalation and Suspension
How to Use Your Breath to Focus the Mind
Here’s how you can use the yogic breathing technique to better focus the mind:
Beginner Pranayama Exercises for Yoga Breath Control
Here are the best beginner yoga breathing exercises you can start doing today for pranayama:
Anulom Vilom is a very popular yoga breathing exercise. Start by closing your eyes and sit in Padmasana (as shown in the picture). Use your right thumb to close your right nostril, and inhale slowly through the left nostril – ensuring you take in as much air as you possibly can. Then, remove your thumb from your right nostril and exhale slowly. Now, while you exhale, use your middle finger to close your left nostril and inhale with your right nostril. Then, remove your thumb from the right nostril and exhale. Repeat this pranayama breathing sequence for 3-5 minutes.
Ujjayi Yogic Breathing Technique
Nadi Shodhana: Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique
Nadi Shodhana, also known as alternate nostril breathing technique, is an extremely beneficial yoga breathing technique even if done for 5-10 minutes every day.
Here’s how to do the Nadi Shodhana pranayama:
1. Sit comfortably.
2. Bring your thumb to the right nostril (as shown in the picture) and exhale fully.
3. Block the right nostril and inhale through the left nostril.
4. Release your thumb from the right nostril and exhale fully.
5. Now, block the left nostril and inhale with the right nostril.
6. Release the left nostril and exhale fully.
7. Repeat steps 1-6 atleast 10 times.