Prana yoga for healthy mind and body
Most of us ill health can be traced to stagnant prana which needs to be flowing to be healthy. The five pranas namely Prana, Apana, Udana,Vyana and Samana move in different directions to create the appropriate pranic activity. Asanas and Pranayama which forms the basis for Prana Yoga keeps them in balance for our well being.
Pranayama adding dimensions li life force
Yoga asanas or postures are practiced along with appropriate breathing patterns. While physical movement enables life force or Prana to be circulated, breathing techniques bring in a meditative aspect. These breathing techniques are termed Pranayama and form the core of any kind of Yoga practice. It helps enlarge the scope of prana flow within our system showing us the way to our inner universe wherein lies the true identity of the Self. Diverse ways of inhaling, exhaling and retaining breath is taught by Pranayama methods helping us to extend the vital energy in our body in myriad ways that prove extremely beneficial in maintaining good health.
Pranayama is liberating
The definition of the Sanskrit word ‘Prana” comes from ‘Pra” to mean ‘movement’ and ‘Na’ to mean ‘ constant’. Life energy or vital energy is the factor that lends life and movement to our body. Getting to know it with better awareness lends dimensions that help us know ourselves better. The energy that flows within us and the energy that flows all around us in the universe is what directs every action – from the physical to the bio-chemical processes in our cells.
To define Pranayama we need to note the combination of the words ‘Prana’ and ‘Yama’. The first word meaning life force, the second one means ‘to control’. Harnessing the prana or vital energy through breath regulation is what Pranayama is all about. It incorporates methods of intentionally alternating the pattern of breath that result in activation of prana. Pranayama can also be interpreted as Prana and Ayama meaning adding dimensions to our vital energy.
The flow of this vital life sustaining energy in our body is through ‘Nadis’ or channels that permeate every cell of our body. The main energy channels are Ida, Pingala and Sushumna which are entwined from the base to the crown of our body. The Sushumna is in the very centre and the Ida and Pingala criss cross it. The spots where they cross are the locations of ‘Chakras’ or energy centres. Yoga is the science of circulating and controlling the flow of Prana. Asanas thus activate the energy centres and help in removing stagnation of energy that can lead to ailments both physical and mental.The various movements in forward and back bends. twists. seated. supine , prone as well as inverted asanas cultivate and circulate prana in our system strengthening the nadis in the process.
Pranayama or the various breathing techniques harness breath and regulate its movement to access the prana and help it permeate into the tiny nadis. While Pranayama is practiced the fingers are held in certain positions called Mudras which channelise vital energy. The practice also includes Bandhas or energetic locks that guide prana into the main nadis.The purpose of Yoga is to create an expansion of consciousness in order to free the mind and this is achieved through Pranayama or breath regulation to channelise prana.
What pranayama means to a yoga practitioner?
For someone who acknowledges the intention of Yoga to reach a state of meditative focus, Pranayama holds great importance. Pranayama makes for an essential part of Yoga practice after Asanas. Pranayama includes breathing techniques such as
● Ujjayi breathing which is also an integral part of Ashtanga form of Yoga,
● Breath retention or Kumbhaka,
● Bandhas or energy locks,
● Bastrika and Kapalbhathi or forceful exhalation in a rapid manner
● Bhramhari or the hum of a bee.
● Nadi Shodhana and Anulom Vilom practices for balancing the Ida and Pingala flow through alternate nostril breathing are integral to Pranayama practice.
When introduced to Yoga, a beginner is met with loads of information regarding the importance of breath in the practice. Pranayama is stressed upon as the most important part of Yoga experience. The question foremost in a novice would be how to practice Pranayama. One needs to adopt a seated posture either Swastikasana (cross-legged) or in Padmasana ( Lotus Pose) or Vajrasana (on knees). The spine has to be erect since energy is being circulated. Eyes remain closed to allow steadfast focus on the breath, finally the practice ends in meditation. The body should be kept still and all muscles relaxed especially those of the face. The practice is done in a calm manner without any kind of agitation.
Mudras or hand gestures are an important part of Pranayama practice. Fingers are held with forefinger to thumb and the other three fingers straightened. The palm can then be kept either upward facing or placed downwards on the thighs. Mudras help activate the specific parts of the brain to bring the system to a meditative state.
They would then be taken through an understanding of the various methods of practicing Pranayama and then instructed by the teacher on the right way to do them. Guidance is of utmost importance since there is the possibility of inculcating Pranayama in wrong ways which can cause damage to health.
The various kinds of Pranayama or Breath Control Techniques can be listed as follows:
● Understanding and practicing the difference between NATURAL BREATHING and YOGIC BREATHING.
● Recognizing and adapting the three components of Yogic Breathing, namely Abdominal, Thorasic and Clavicular Breathing.
● Nadi Shodhan (Pranic channel cleansing) and its method of alternate nostril breathing
● Anulom Vilom or alternate nostril breathing to balance the flow of energy in Ida and Pingala Nadis
● Viloma or interrupted breathing
● Bastrika or bellow breath
● Kapalbathi method of rapid exhalation to activate the pre-frontal cortex
● Surya & Chandra Bhedana to lend power to active or passive mode of breathing
● Sheetali breathing to cool the body
● Bhramari or humming method to calm nerves
An experienced teacher would be needed to show the right way to practice these methods as appropriate after which you can do them on your own.
Benefits of pranayama
Apart from the immense benefits that come from a free flowing vital energy, Pranayama plays an important role in maintaining health in a holistic way. The different methods of breath regulation has been proved to be beneficial in improving lung capacity thus aiding in the treatment of breath related problems such as asthma.
Pranayama guides us into ways of changing the depth, rate and pattern of breathing which helps us in making ourselves calm down and de-stress. It gives us a handle on our emotions and we tend to become less volatile in our expressions.The breathing techniques teach us how to cure our stress-related illnesses.
Kapalbathi Pranayama is said to help in reducing weight while cleansing the upper respiratory tract and activate the brain since it engages abdominal muscles.
Ujjayi Pranayama or victorious breath where the focus is on breathing from the throat helps in maintaining calmness in stressful situations as well as assist in developing a strong will power and sound judgement. Chandra Bhedana Pranayama has shown to lower hypertension and provide better heart health.
The enormous benefits to the nervous and endocrine systems that come from Pranayama and Meditation are being enjoyed by Yoga practitioners throughout the world.