The Power of Pranayama
Have you ever notice how good your first morning yawn feels? Or a simple sigh at the end of a long day? Pranayama is scientifically proven to reduce stress, cool the body down, improve sleep, purify blood and the respiratory system, and it’s more familiar than we think.
What is Pranayama?
Derived from two words, Prana and Yama. Prana meaning life force, energy, breath. Yama meaning control or discipline. Pranayama is the practice of controlling the breath.
This practice, which originated in the hindu and yogic cultures, intends to help you find bliss and enlightenment. Under the 8 philosophical limbs of Raja Yoga is Pranayama. Controlled breathing and breath retention is practiced so that we can eventually reach the state of pure bliss and enlightenment when combined with the other limbs. Yogis call this enlightenment; Samadhi.
Why we do it
Pranayama breathing exercises work on clearing any physical and emotional obstacles or blocks in our body. With regular and sustained practice we can find a meditative consciousness as the mind becomes completely still.
Try out the pranayama exercises below to reap the benefits!
Ujjayi: Victorious Breath
Regularly referred to as ocean breath or child sleeping breath due to the sound it creates. Ujjayi, often used in a vinyasa yoga class to encourage movement to breath and focus on breath over thought.
Come into a comfortable seat, straight spine, hands resting comfortably. Close your lips, gently inhale and exhale from the nose. Slightly tuck your chin to chest, add a slight restriction to the back of the throat. Breathing the whisper of sound S-A-H as you inhale, H-A-H as you exhale, will help create the oceanic sound. Can be done for long periods of time, be your own judge for this one.
Kapalabhati: Skull Shining breath
Skull Shining breath is an invigorating breath that will leave you feeling clear and ready. This breath can also build heat in the body. Known to help remove mucus in the air passages, relieve congestion, reduce bloating, and improve lung capacity.
Come into a comfortable seat, straight spine, exhale completely. Inhale through the nose filling into the belly, then quick and sharp exhale from the nose, repeatedly and very actively, pulling the belly button into the spine each time. Do this for 30 seconds, take a break and then one more round.
Nadi Shodhana: Alternate Nostril Breath
Known to balance our masculine and feminine energies, or the two main energy channels Ida (yin) and Pingala (yang) running alongside our spine, this breath will purify and clear the mind-body organism.
Comfortably seated, raise your right hand to your face. Place your thumb on right nostril, index and middle finger between your eyebrows, ring and pinky finger on left nostril. Block your right nostril with your thumb and take a deep inhale through the left nostril into the belly. Use your ring finger and pinky finger to block the left nostril as well, holding for a moment, release the right nostril and exhale completely. Be sure to hold the breath for a moment. Repeat starting right side and finishing left side. A complete cycle of breath includes a full inhalation and exhalation from both nostrils. Do this for 1-2 minutes.
Sitali: Cooling Breath
This breath encourages cool, calm and collected energy by clearing heat from the body and leaving a cool effect on your mind. Sitali means cooling, beat the heat especially for hot climates. This is great for irritable moods, hot weather and relaxation.
Roll the edges of your tongue together creating a tube shape. If curling your tongue isn’t working for you create an oval shape with the whole mouth. Breathe in through the mouth using the tongue like a straw. Curl the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth and completely exhale from the nose. Do this for 1 – 5 minutes.
Photo credit: Claudia Wareham