Pranayama - Breathing Techniques, Guidelines and Benefits

Life Energy is called prana (prah-nah). In sanskrit, the word for breath is the same as the word for life - prana. The first thing you do as you enter this world is to inhale. Your last act in this life is to exhale. When prana leaves the body, we die. The breath is a metaphor for life energy. In yoga, and in Ayurveda, we seek to sustain and enhance the life force as much as possible - absorbing as much prana through breath, food, visual surroundings, sound, all our senses as possible.

Pranayama: Guidelines and Techniques
The most significant way of doing this is through the practice of pranayama (prah-nah-yah-mah), breathing techniques or breath control. Yama (yah-mah) is translated as control, discipline, regulation or mastery. Hence, some translate pranayama as "breath control." Ayama (ah-yah-mah) is expansion, growth, extension,augmentation or magnification. Hence, another translation is "expansion of the life force." Both are loosely translated as "breath control," but realize that there is much more behind this definition.
Breathing is one of the few autonomic functions of the body that we may also control (although more experienced yogis and yoginis may control heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, and other functions previously believed to be autonomic). The breath is seen as an important link between our body, our mind, and our spirit - moving from the purely physical realm, to the mental, to the spiritual.
Basic Guidelines
  1. Blow your nose, clearing your nostrils as much as possible before beginning.
  2. Begin practicing pranayama in a room-temperature (68 degrees Farenheit) environment.
  3. Extremely cold or hot air can affect your health adversely.
  4. Also, please do this in FRESH air - no smoke, chemicals, or other harmful elements in your environment. Air will be pulled more deeply into your lungs, and it need to be clean and fresh.Breath through the nostrils only, unless otherwise specified.
  5. The fluidity of your breath is the priority - if your breath begins to be choppy or uneven, stop what you are doing and allow your breath to return to its own, natural rhythm.If you begin to feel faint, dizzy, flushed, or light-headed, stop what you are doing, and allow your breath to return to its own natural rhythm. This is a result of the increased oxygen levels in the body, which your body may not be accustomed to.
  6. You can increase your pranayama practice and use of oxygen gradually.
Pranayama Techniques
  1. Abdominal Breath - also called the "Diaphramatic Breath", "Natural Breath" - allows one to breath deeply into the lungs, using the diaphragm. Begins to reset our patterns from shallow chest breathing to deep, healthy, belly breathing.
  2. Dirgha Pranayama - (pronounced "DEAR-gah) also called the "Yogic Breath", "Three-part breath" and "Complete Breath" - completely fills our lungs with oxygen. expands and stretches the lungs gently, increasing lung capacity. Brings a higher level of oxygen into the blood stream.
  3. Ujjayi Pranayama - (pronouned OOOO-jah-yeee) "Ocean Sounding" or "Victorious" breath (in Kids Yoga we call it the "Darth Vader" breath) The sound created by this breath has been described as a "soft hissing sound" or a "gentle snore." This in one of the most important breathing techniques in yoga. Increases body heat, the sound calms and focuses the mind, allowing you to relax more deeply, can be used to either lower blood pressure and slow heart rate, OR to increase blood pressure and heart rate, depending upon whether one is utilizing the Ashtanga style of forceful ujjayi or the meditative style of slow and soft ujjayi. Used for pain reduction, insomnia, and migraines.
  4. Nadi Shodhana - (pronounced NAH-dee SHOW-dhah-nah) the "Sweet Breath", "Channel Purification Breath" or "Alternate Nostril Breath"- brings balance to the right and left hemispheres of the brain
  5. Kapalabhati - (pronounced kah-PAH-lah-bah-tee) "Skull Polishing Breath" - increases circulation, energizes the body, brings a high level of oxygen into the blood streamBreath of Fire - "Bellows Breathing" - strengthens chest and diaphragm, loosens spine, stretches lungs, controls the breath at a different level.
  6. Analoma Veloma - (pronounced annah-LOW-mah veh-LOH-mah) Advanced Breathing Technique for experienced meditators and yogis who already have an established breathing practice. Brings one to a deep, contemplative state of mind, and mastery over the physical breath.
Pranayama Benefits
  1. Pranayama increases the quantum of life force (Prana) so that it can reach out to 'hidden' recesses of the brain.
  2. 9 out of 10 adults are chest breathers - shallow breathing into the chest, not reaching deep in the lungs at all. Children are born as belly breathers because it is HEALTHIER and more NATURAL breathing for the body. Stress and environmental conditioning change us into chest breathers as we mature. We can regain our ability to breath in a slow, deep, and healthy manner through pranayama - breathing from the belly button on up.
  3. In most people, the bottom 1/3 of our lungs is "dead space." We breath so shallowly, we hardly use this 1/3 at all. For individuals with respiratory concerns, learning to breath into the healthy, undamaged bottom 1/3 of the lungs, where there is pink healthy tissue to absorb oxygen, can be beneficial.
  4. Strengthen the immune system, calms and steadies the mind, improves focus and concentration, can raise or lower blood pressure, depending upon the technique chosen and the desired result, body uses oxygen more efficiently, increasing our health provide sufficient oxygen for the functioning of every cell in our body.
  5. Without sufficient oxygen, we cannot metabolize food properly, and nutrients are wasted (take time to breath deeply between your bites of food during mealtimes - aids digestion in many ways)increases VO2 Max (the efficient use of oxygen in the body - measured most commonly in athletes)increases lung capacityfor those suffering from lung damage (emphyzema, etc.), can learn to draw air more deeply into the lungs, reaching undamaged lung tissue and allowing easier breathing.
  6. Most smokers are shallow "chest breathers" and so they draw smoke into the upper 1/3 to 2/3 of the lungs. Once he has given up smoking, an individual can be taught to breath deeply into the bottom 1/3 of the lungs, allowing the body a sufficient supply of oxygen and increasing health.reduce stress - when encountering stress, one of our first responses is to hold the breath, or breath very shallowly. This is a "fight or flight", primitive response that may have served us at one point in our evolutionary development. However, now, we respond this way to even slight stimuli - while driving in traffic, buzzer on a microwave going off, etc. We spend a great deal of our day actually holding our breath.
  7. Learning to consciously focus on deep breathing relaxes the body and calms the mind, and keeps the oxygen flowing, improving our health!better emotional control and equilibrium - As a common remedy for stress, we use the expression " take a deep breath." Breathing actually allows us to respond to events more clearly, rationally, and calmly by supplying the brain with ample oxygen. A lack of oxygen can cause lack of concentration and emotional unbalance.improved physical control of the bodyremove waste products such as Carbon Dioxide and other toxic gases from the body, so they do not remain in the blood stream - this exchange in done through the alvioli in the lungsspiritual benefits of breathing - healthy body, calm mind, and inner serenity. These take you on the road to spiritual discovery.
  8. Nasal passages have many nerve endings, and breathing techniques can stimulate calming centers of the brain.Open the Nadis and remove blockages to energy flow in the bodyStrengthen and gain control of the diaphragm - improving abdominal tone, singing capacity, and health.
  9. Learning healthy breathing techniques benefits the following conditions: asthma, allergies, high or low blood pressure, stress-related heart conditions, hyperactivity, insomnia, chronic pain, some psychological conditions, metabolic and endocrine imbalances. When we are calm and balanced, the breath is usually smooth, even, and steady. When we are tense, frightened, angry, or nervous, our breath is erratic, choppy, uneven or strained. There is a correlation between our well being - physically and emotionally, and the fluidity of our breath.

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