Better health and a happier life may be only a breath away. Pranayama is an ancient Indian technique that is a treasure of many valuable benefits for the physical body and the mind and spirit.
Spiritual and physical have always been closely connected. This article explains how Pranayama rivets the two aspects to unfold a life of wonders.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is the practice of breath control and awareness. In Sanskrit, “Prana” means life force, and “Yama” means control. Breath control has been used for thousands of years in India for its health benefits.
Practiced for 5000 years in India, this technique slowly spread out through many other parts of Asia, finally reaching Western culture. It is described as mind-body coordination and uses various breathing techniques for physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.
In ancient times, Pranayama helped yogis and sadhus (mystics) keep calm and focused while they meditated. Nowadays, scientifically proven benefits have brought this ancient practice back into the lives of people worldwide. It is practiced as an alternative therapy by millions of yoga practitioners everywhere. While some may have reservations concerning the spiritual side, a large body of evidence from medical research proves its effectiveness.
A study by the University of Calcutta established Pranayama's various health benefits. Pranayama suppresses the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system). Thus, it reduces stress and anxiety. It also improves autonomic and higher neural center functioning.
Another study by Saoji A. et al. found out that Pranayama demonstrated reduced ratings of pain intensity and discomfort compared to normal breathing on pain perception. The same study outlined that Pranayama improves the quality of sleep and, alongside radiotherapy, was also beneficial in reducing the cancer symptoms.
Studies also suggest that Pranayama influences neurocognitive abilities and metabolic activities in the body. It relieves health conditions like hypertension and asthma. The practice helps reduce body weight, reaction time in specially-abled children, enhances the mood of patients withdrawing from cigarette smoking and manages anxiety and stress in students. It increases the overall quality of life.
Power of Prana
Thoughts affect Prana, and Prana affects thoughts, which means that a change in the flow of Prana in the body changes the way we think. Prana is responsible for all our body's processes, from digestion to breathing. Thus, Pranayama helps us control our thought processes and influences how we feel about ourselves.
Prana recharges the vital energy centers present in every cell of our body. This charging up helps stimulate all the cells with optimum energy currents, increasing blood circulation throughout the entire body. Blood carries nutrients and oxygen to different parts of the body, which naturally boosts immune function. Hence, we experience invigorated physical strength and mental clarity.
Health Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama works wonders for the lungs and respiratory system. It involves deep breathing exercises resulting in the flow of fresh oxygen into our lungs. The same then circulates through the body, bringing oxygen-rich blood to every cell. Pranayama can also treat respiratory diseases like cold, cough, bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, etc.
Pranayama helps you achieve a deep state of concentration. It helps to bring the mind and breath into harmony, resulting in a focused thought process. By decreasing stress levels, Pranayama helps in enhancing focus on tasks at hand. It improves overall concentration by reducing anxiety levels. With tranquil thoughts, we can attain a clear mental state.
Helps in Detoxification
We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, which is the waste product of our body. Pranayama can facilitate this process of waste expulsion. By getting rid of toxins in our system, it also ensures that no new toxins enter our bodies during inhalation. Pranayama helps detoxify and cleanse the blood by increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to all organs. If practiced regularly and properly, it reduces the load of harmful substances in the body.
Pranayama boosts overall immunity in an individual. With lower stress levels, your body can fight off diseases and infections like colds and cough. Pranayama can also increase the immunity defenses in our body by increasing white blood cells. White blood cells fight against invading microorganisms, helping achieve a healthy immune system. Pranayama helps us maintain good health by building a robust immune system.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Pranayama massages the heart muscles and improves their working by increasing blood flow throughout the body. It helps to lower cholesterol levels in the body and hence encourages heart health. Studies have shown that practicing Pranayama regularly can reduce high blood pressure. Lower BP proportionately minimizes the risk of getting heart disease and stroke.
Practicing Pranayama regularly helps to improve digestion and reduce acidity in the body. It can help cure problems like acid reflux and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It cures indigestion. Pranayama massages the stomach lining, improves peristalsis and strengthens digestive enzymes present in our body. By increasing metabolism, it also ensures proper assimilation of nutrients by our bodies.
Glows the Skin
Pranayama promotes healthy, glowing skin by improving the quality of blood flow throughout our bodies. It ensures the proper distribution of nutrients and oxygen around the body, necessary to maintain healthy skin. By reducing stress levels, it provides clear and radiant skin.
Helps in Weight Loss
Pranayama helps with weight loss by improving metabolic rates. It helps to burn fat and calories, thereby promoting a healthy body mass index (BMI). It reduces the accumulation of excess fats around the abdominal region. By keeping our digestive system healthy due to its improved functioning capabilities, we feel less hungry. Also, your stomach quickly gets full with controlled breathing, and you feel satiated for longer durations of time.
Effective For Brain Disorders
Pranayama helps cure psychological disorders like anxiety and depression by releasing the happy hormone, serotonin. For children with developmental disorders like ADHD, autism, etc., Pranayama can be used as an alternative form of therapy along with medicines prescribed by the doctor.
Improves muscle strength and flexibility
Pranayama ensures that all organs work correctly by providing them with the necessary supply of oxygen-rich blood. With more oxygen being supplied to your cells, you can work out for longer periods without getting tired or exhausted quickly. It enhances muscle strength by improving their flexibility significantly.
Pranayama stimulates the optic nerve system by increasing pressure on it. This helps in the proper functioning of retinal cells in the retina- a part of our eye essential for vision processing. It helps to improve vision by increasing circulation and the supply of blood to the eyes.
Soothes menstrual cramps
Many women experience severe period cramps during menstruation. A study found that women practicing Pranayama showed a significant reduction in pain severity compared with their counterparts. A woman can practice Pranayama regularly for 2 -3 months before their periods start as an easy way to prevent pain and discomfort associated with menstruation.
Spiritual Benefits of Pranayama
Increases clairvoyance and sixth sense
By practicing Pranayama regularly, our brain gets trained to absorb more information. This helps us in perceiving even the slightest vibrations or energies around us. Hence, via Pranayama, we can enhance our psycho-spiritual abilities such as clairvoyance or sixth sense ability.
Helps to connect with your inner self
Pranayama helps us to feel more connected with our inner being. It helps you experience a higher state of consciousness, also known as pure ecstasy. You can easily connect with your inner self through the practice of Pranayama. This will help in learning about your true purpose in life and live according to it.
Provides the benefits of Yoga and Meditation together
Pranayama is a technique that helps you experience the benefits of Yoga and Meditation together. It can be akin to meditation as it helps you achieve a relaxed state of mind and helps attain Yoga goals like the clarity of mind by stopping the flow of thoughts. Pranayama is beneficial for those who are new to Yoga as well as Meditation.
It helps you grow spiritually
Pranayama enhances your spiritual development. It helps in strengthening your willpower to resist negative impulses or thoughts that can impact your life adversely. This will provide a strong foundation for self-discovery and lead to a positive transformation in your personality. It can help you attain peace of mind, feel more connected with your inner self, and develop a certain level of detachment from the physical body.
Incorporating Pranayama into your yoga exercises can be beneficial to yourself and the surrounding environment. It changes your outlook on the world and yourself for the better. It is an excellent addition to your regular Yoga or Meditation practice. As with every great thing, Pranayama also needs proper guidance from your yoga instructors for best results. Once you start practicing it regularly, there is no looking back. It will become a part of your life and help you lead a healthy and happy one for sure!