Pranayama is a yoga practice that I believe does not get enough attention in the modern yoga world! I have been practising this art form for as long as I’ve been practising asana and that’s why I have decided that the next two months will be dedicated to this life giving practice. Click here to watch a video on some asanas to practice before starting your pranayama practice.
In yoga there are various breathing practices that work to restore our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and if we are willing to explore deeper, they can also work for our spiritual liberation.
The paradox of breathing is that it is an automatic function of human existence, yet breathing is not that simple. There are many disorders in breathing patterns and much of it has to do with how our conscious waking life seeps into our unconscious life. This is when our ego mind comes into contact with the breath and our capacity to anticipate what happens next affects our breathing pattern, which then becomes part of our unconscious mind. So our breath is one way that we can work with the mind.
Yoga and pranayama can help us move into our unconscious mind, because the conscious movement of breath can trigger it. In some ways, pranayama is an invitation to undo and feel both unhelpful emotional patterns.
Every discomfort that comes up during pranayama practice is part of the process of becoming conscious. This includes being uncomfortable in your body, agitation, anxiety and dislike. Part of becoming conscious is to increase our awareness by reflecting on:
Where is it coming from?
Why is it coming up?
So be patient if you decide to include pranayama in your patience. Like asana it takes time!
Physical & Mental Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama practice trains the respiratory system to function optimally by utilising the entire lungs and diaphragm and:
- oxygenates the blood, which helps remove waste and toxins
- this oxygenated blood improves blood circulation
- more oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart
- this tones the nerves, brain spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency
- the rhythmic use of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in pranayama directly stimulates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, as well as promoting intestinal circulation. So it helps the intestine in its function of absorbing food materials and disposing of solid waste
- the spleen just under the left diaphragm, acts as a filter to purify the circulating blood of worn out oxygen carrying red cells
- Much of the splenic blood circulation is within lymphatic structures and is stimulated by pranayama
- reduces breathing rate- pranayama practices help reduce breathing rates per minute from 15 breaths to 5-6 breaths and can help to lower blood pressure and quiet the nervous system
- regular, rhythmic and prolonged breath develops inner focus, and calms the nervous system
- Calms the mind becoming sensitive to the flow of breath, the subtlety of the breath, and finally the suspension of the breath, leads you to an awareness of the force behind the breath—prana.
- becoming aware of prana as the thread that links you to deeper states of mental awareness, independent of the physical body and the senses. This is the beginning of mastering the mind and deepening the spiritual journey
- helps unleash blockages in the main nadi’s (energy channels) – ida and pingala nadi, and helps to move prana into the central channel (sushmna nadi) in the subtle body (this is how it can work for your spiritual liberation- experientially revealing to you that you are Shakti- a powerful energetic and light body).