Pranayama roughly translates from Sanskrit as “extension of prana (breath/life force)”. The word “pranayama” is composed of three Sanskrit words – “pra”, which means first, “na”, which means unit of energy, and “yama”, which means guided expansion. It is the practice of guiding and giving direction to the life force energy, the source of our prana, or vital life force. Prana is often assumed to refer just to breath, but its implications are much more grand. Prana is any source of energy, of giving life force. It is life giving, refreshing, and energy producing. Even though in a pranayama practice we are manipulating and guiding the breath, it is a practice that reaches far beyond our lungs. We are utilizing our breath as a tool to balance our energies, uplift our spirits, and improve our entire being, our entire cosmic energy.
Pranayama is also what makes a yoga practice (specifically an asana practice) unique when compared to any other other movement based activity. The integration of breathwork makes an asana practice far more dynamic and beneficial than simply moving the body. The body is a sponge for prana and pranayama allows the body to easily soak up and hold onto prana.The benefits of pranayama are numerous, when practiced alone or in conjunction with a meditation or asana practice.
When our focus is turned towards our breath, it brings our attention to the present moment. This turn to the present increases our self-awareness, calms the mind, and reduces anxiety. When practicing deep breathing techniques such as abdominal breathing or slow paced anuloma viloma, our parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, our body and mind are encouraged to soften and relax.
Many other pranayama techniques bring harmony and balance to the body, mind, and spirit, in turn strengthening an individual physically, mentally, and spiritually. Numerous research studies have pointed to the conclusion that pranayama techniques are useful in managing a multitude of stress related disorders. Additionally, these studies have found many overall health benefits including boosting the immune system, increasing energy, lowering and stabilizing blood pressure, purifying toxicity (in body and mind), cleansing the sinuses, managing emotions, and reducing stress. Through the use of specific rhythms and techniques, a pranayama practice helps to release any blockages and cleanse the mind of negative or compulsive thought patterns, or thoughts/emotions which are no longer needed.
There are dozens of pranayama techniques, all of which Vishva-ji weaves into his meditation and asana practices. Recently he has launched a series of videos dedicated purely to some of these pranayama techniques, in order to clarify these practices and highlight their benefits. To learn even more and practice for yourself, venture over to Akhanda Yoga Online to improve your well-being and promote inner peace!