what is pranayama?
- prana: breath, breath of life; the life force that flows through the nadis of our bodies; also refers to our breath, which is the external manifestation of the life force
- yama: restraint, suppression; commandments or rules, they represent what should be abstained from in the material world; represents the first limb of Patanjali’s eightfold Raja or Ashtanga Yoga, comprised of 5 yamas including ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (spiritual training and chastity) and aparigraha (deprivation, limitation of worldly possessions). Other scriptures, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika, honor 10 yamas.
- ayama: stopping, restraining; also expanding, extending, stretching
Used to describe the art of yogic breathing, Pranayama is a sanskrit word roughly translating to “breath control.” Pranayama is composed of three individual words: prana, meaning “breath” or “breath of life”; yama, meaning “restraint” and “suppression”; and ayama, an auto-antonym meaning both “restraining” and “extending.”
The goal of Pranayama is to circulate Prana (breath) through our bodies’ nadis, the channels in which our energy flows. Prana (also called “hamsa”) refers not only to our breath, which is the manifestation of our life force, but also to the life force or energy that flows through the nadis. If Pranayama is practiced regularly and Prana flow throughout the nadis is consistent and continuous, both mental and physical balance and awareness are heightened.
Throughout the nadis there are also energy centers, or chakras, which can be activated through the use of Pranayama. If Pranayama is not practiced and Prana is not regularly flowing through the nadis, then one or more of your chakras can become blocked. Depending on the chakra, this can have a variety of negative effects that have an incredibly wide range of physical and emotional drawbacks: depression, loneliness, guilt, anger, confusion, arrogance, promiscuity, digestive issues, hypertension, headaches, eating disorders and many others. By using Pranayama, energy will continue to flow throughout the nadis and chakras, which will help keep the chakras open and active. By opening all 7 major chakras, the body and mind are able to merge together as one and find balance, comfort and inner peace.
Benefits of Pranayama
By practicing Pranayama and opening the chakras, many physical and emotional benefits will replace the previous drawbacks. Even when it comes to breathing, practice makes perfect! Pranayama improves breathing technique if used regularly; this increases lung capacity and circulates more oxygen throughout the body, which in turn improves central nervous system and brain function. Breathing deeply and correctly will also help remove impurities and toxins from our bodies, reinforcing immune support.
Those that practice Pranayama also report feeling improved concentration and overall mood. Physically, the breathing exercises increase lung capacity, strengthening physical endurance. Also, the rhythmic nature of the breathing exercises naturally relaxes the body, bringing peace of mind and relieving stress. This reduces cortisol levels and reinforces brain activity. Recent studies show that even basic meditative breathing exercises can benefit our body at the cellular level, strengthening our immune systems and enhancing gene expression. With regular practice and training, Pranayama may be able to relax our nervous systems and calm our response to high levels of stress, while also improving self-image, motivation, digestion and overall well-being.