What Is Pranayama?
Prana is defined as life force energy.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning extension of the prana, or the practice of breath control. This is an essential yogic practice that originates from ancient India.
Other cultures include practices similar in concept such as Tai Chi practices from ancient China in which breath and movement are combined to create a moving meditation.
The prana, or breath, carries a person’s vital life force.
How Does Pranayama Work?
The practice of Pranayama releases and channels the body’s stores of internal pranic energy. Regular practice contributes to health of the body and mind.
Controlling our breathing and manipulating the breath in various patterns releases accumulated stress we carry in our bodies. This stress manifests differently in each individual. It can be felt as the tension we carry in our jaw and shoulders, headaches and migraines, and other physical ailments like a propensity for colds.
A few ways stress can accumulate that adversely affect mental health are anxiety, racing or ruminating thoughts, and difficulty sleeping.
Can Pranayama Actually Improve My Wellbeing?
Many are dubious of the benefits of Pranayama, after all, how can something as simple as breathing possibly increase health?
I too was doubtful about the legitimacy of this philosophy when I first encountered it in my own yoga experience. I am very much the move and get stuff done type of person, so the asana or physical form practice of yoga came more naturally to me. The thought of sitting and emptying my mind of everything and focusing solely on controlled breathing was incredibly intimidating.
As an individual who was previously stricken with impromptu panic attacks seemingly out of the blue and crippling anxiety, it was in fact pranayama that would have been the most helpful practice for channeling and clearing my energy most effectively.
I will not say that my anxiety now is magically cured, I am still prone to anxious tendencies. The severity and frequency of my anxious spells, however, has decreased significantly.
The Basic Physics Behind Pranayama
In understanding how Pranayama can be a beneficial tool, it can be helpful to consider the physics principle that matter and energy are one and the same, albeit in various forms.
We can look at the mind and body as an energetic cloud that is so dense it manifests in a physical form – you!
Various circumstances, activities, people, and things interact with our personal energy and there is an energetic exchange. Some things will drain our energy and others will replenish it.
Prana, the energy that moves the Universe, is in everything and everyone.
Pranayama then is not merely breathing techniques, but using mindful control of the breath to affect your energy and state. By becoming familiar with these exercises, we can move the energy within us to induce healing – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Pranayama For The Body & Mind
It has become clear that our own minds can influence the disorders and diseases we struggle with as a species. If we can better understand our minds and bodies and use these important tools in a way that benefit us, we can heal the malaise that affects our health and mood.
Do you ever take notice your breath throughout the day?
For most of us, our breathing tends to be erratic and shallow, with different situations affecting our breath patterns. High pressure situations will tend to speed up your breath. Different mental states are connected to their own breathing patterns.
In breathing purposefully and with mindful intention, we can induce calm and clarity to the mind and begin to direct our energy in a desired manner. All the body systems are interconnected in a divinely complex way we are just beginning to grasp.
How To Add Pranayama To Your Life
Pranayama is a practice that is built over time with patience and understanding. Some benefits are not always immediately apparent and require daily practice for several months. The fruits of Pranayama are not a quick fix type of situation.
For those who struggle with patience (shout out to my fellow fire signs!) this can be a challenge. It can feel tedious and pointless, with no immediate gratification results. This leads many people to drop off from their practice.
Approach Pranayama with an open mind and curious, experimental nature.
I am still learning the various Pranayama exercises and identifying which ones appear to benefit me the most. This will vary from person to person. The important factor is maintaining a sustained, daily routine.
I have felt the calm and centered energy I am able to generate within myself through conscious breath control. I am also more able to identify erratic breathing throughout the day in moments of anxiety and in that awareness, direct the flow of my breath to change my current state.
See for yourself if the changes in your internal state reflects what these ancient wisdoms teach.
Questions, tips, or comments about Pranayama? Leave them below!