Prana (Life Fore)
Pranayama is a term to define the various breathing exercises often learned and practiced in accompaniment to Yoga Asana (postures).
Our breath is one of the most powerful tools we hold in the understanding and mindfulness of the body. Breath is also one of the main threads that connects life all around the world, it can teach us true compassion, love and understanding.
The fourth limb on Patanjali's 'eight limbs' of the ancient Yogic path, Pranayama is an incredibly powerful tool in clearing the physical, energetic and emotional obstacles in our body to free the breath and so the flow of 'Prana', or life energy.
When learned safely and correctly, Pranayama can be a super-strengthener to our yoga practice. Teaching us to regulate, lengthen, deepen and soften the breath, we can gain more understanding and awareness of the impact of breath on the body and mind and therefore operate in a more mindful way. Through regular and sustained practise of Pranayama you can supercharge your whole body, mind and life!
Let's talk science...
In a nutshell, the nervous system is divided into TWO - the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” response), and the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation). In this day and age, much of the stress we see here in the West is attributed to stresses of the sympathetic nervous system.
The biological responses seen with stress are pretty obvious: increased heart rate, shortness of breath, clenching of muscles, digestive complaints etc etc...
Operating consistently in a high-stress environment means we are continually wreaking havoc on our minds, bodies, nervous systems and of course breath!
Most Pranayama techniques aid in sliding the body back into the Parasympathetic Nervous System and get us to relax. The benefits of Pranayama are endless and are closely tied in with those of meditation and asana practice (Yoga is a lifestyle, not an exercise regime!)
There are also some breath techniques that allow for the heat-building energy created by our breaths to be focused in and used on a specific area of the body, gaining an energetic edge when practicing some yoga postures and therefore a greater awareness of body control.
“Some offer their out-flowing breath into the breath that flows in; and the in-flowing breath into the breath that flows out; they aim at Pranayama, breath-harmony, and the flow of their breath is in peace.” ― The Bhagavad Gita