Pranayama The Art Of Breathing
Pranayama holds a special place in yoga. Yoga practitioners, whether at a beginner or an advanced level, have all implemented breath control as an essential part of their practice. In fact, being aware of the breath and synchronizing with it sets yoga apart from other practices.
Breath gives us the gift of life. We draw in “Prana” or life force with each breath that allows universal energy to pulsate through us. Breathing is a subconscious act and and most of us take it for granted without realizing its importance. However, yoga teaches us pranayama, to bring awareness and consciousness to the way we breathe, which further enhances our physical and mental health.
Apart from breath expansion and control in “Pranayama”, breathing is also an essential part of yoga asanas. Yoga poses and movements are harmonized with our breath. Let us understand this subject in detail.
Anatomy of the breath
The air flows into our windpipe as we breathe in through our nose. It further segregates itself like the branches of a tree into the left and right bronchi, the main passageway, into the lungs.
The bronchi divides into bronchioles from where the air and oxygen reaches the bottom of the lungs. Here, the air goes to the alveoli, the microscopic air sacs, where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the bloodstream, at the base of the lungs takes place. On inhalation, the heart rate goes up which further increases blood flow through the arteries to the lungs.
The most crucial breathing muscle is the diaphragm. This dome shaped muscle, powers our breath and is located at the base of the thorax (chest cavity). It segregates the organs of the chest from the abdominal and pelvic organs. It is aided by two core muscles, the quadratus lumborum and the psoas. Since the lungs have no skeletal muscles of their own, breathing is supported by the diaphragm, which is attached to the lower part of the rib cage and the spine.
Conscious Breathing in Yoga
We are constantly encouraged to breathe consciously in yoga. We inhale into backbends and exhale into forward folds. We inhale as we stretch, getting ready for a posture and exhale as we sink into the pose and so on. We are taught to synchronize our breath and movements. This is, in fact, the central focus of yogic practice as it allows us to connect with the subtle energy within. With practice, we realize that the breath helps us navigate through the various levels of our consciousness.
Connecting to the breath helps us focus on the present moment. It teaches us the act of “letting go”. We are able to appreciate the “now” and we learn how to let go of our regrets of the past and worries for the future.
Breathing consciously stimulates a different part of the brain than breathing normally. When we are off our yoga mats, normal breathing is controlled by the primitive part of the brain, the medulla oblongata. On the other hand, conscious breathing originates from an evolved part of the brain called the cerebral cortex.
Conscious breathing stimulates impulses from the cortex to regions of the brain that impact emotions. As a result, it balances out our emotions and calms the mind. This also means elevating the consciousness by choosing the more evolved part of the brain over the primitive one. So, breathing with awareness gives us a sense of tranquility and well-being which helps us to deal with life’s challenges from a place of strength.
Pranayama is the term used for yoga breathing exercises or breathing techniques. The word Pranayama is derived from the Sanskrit words “Prana which means life force and “Ayama” meaning ‘control of’.
Breath control and coordination is paramount during yoga asanas. However, Pranayama constitutes specific breathing techniques and exercises that can be practised independently.The main tenet of Pranayama is that physical and emotional blocks restrict the flow of life force through the body.
The practice of pranayama helps us clear these blocks and allows breath and prana to flow freely, thus bringing tranquility to the mind and health to the physical body. Regulating the inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention during pranayama techniques help us to strengthen our respiratory organs.
Benefits of Breathing Right
Control over our basic breath can empower us. We are able to neutralize feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness. This leads to a happier version of us. Breathing practices in yoga also aid in weight loss. Deep and controlled breathing promotes oxidation that helps in burning fat cells. Yogic breathing also enhances metabolism by triggering the release of hormones from the thyroid gland, responsible for controlling metabolism rate.
It has been found that there is an interdependence between longevity and respiration rate. Living beings with higher respiratory rates or number of breaths per minute have been found to have shorter life spans. Ancient scriptures and buddhist monks say that we are given a definite number of breaths at birth that determines the length of our life. Thus, practicing pranayama, conscious breathing with long deep breaths on a regular basis increases life span.
Rhythmic and slow breathing leads to stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This means relaxed muscles, slower heart rate, a calm mind and better brain functionality.
The key to attaining a grounded connection with ourselves is, without a doubt, awareness of our breath. Yoga enables us to master the art of self-control. Pranayama and breathing techniques in yoga allow us to take control of our lives so that we can react calmly to the surprises that life throws at us.
Bio of Sapna Sondhi Dutt
Sapna has 17 years of experience as a yoga teacher and practitioner. She founded her yoga studio, Yoga with Sapna, with the aim of spreading the benefits of the art with the masses. She has also created unique sequences for practicing traditional yoga and each class is different, not a set routine. Physical asanas, breathing, and meditation are all done in an integrated flow. Students at Sapna’s yoga studio range from beginners to those who have been coming there for over ten years.