Breathing is the only way you get oxygen for your cells. Oxygen is a vital nutrient that keeps you alive and healthy. You can survive without food or water for several weeks, but without oxygen, you can survive only for a few minutes. Oxygen nourishes, rejuvenates, heals and also prevents many diseases.
Normal breathing is shallow breathing that does not provide enough oxygen for the systems to function well; this is because in shallow breathing only fraction of the lungs are being used and overtime the lungs weaken.
The ancient yogis realized this truth and developed techniques to prolong the length and volume of the breath and called the technique as Pranayama. Prana = vital force and Ayama = regulation or expansion. By practicing pranayama, one not only gets sufficient oxygen for all the cells, also removes many impurities from the cells. There are many types of Pranayama and each of them have bunch of benefits for the mind and body.
Pranayama is a scientific energizing and healing technique, a conscious prolongation of inhalations and exhalations. Pranayama allows the mind to penetrate inwards, refreshes the brain, quietens the mind by removing thoughts and worries, controls the sense organs and makes the practitioner experience inner peace. The inner peace is experienced only when the mind-body disturbances are removed.
The three processes of Pranayama
“Puraka or inhalation,” “Rechaka or exhalation,” “Kumbhaka or retention.”
Inhalation is conscious prolongation of the in-breath. This process expands the lungs and fills the lungs with oxygen, removes blocks from air ways and enhances its functions. Inhalation must be deep and steady without tensing the face muscles or straining the lungs.
Exhalation is conscious prolongation of the out-breath. This process empties the lungs, removes impurities and purifies the respiratory system. Exhalations must be longer than inhalations for. Longer duration of exhalation, empties the lungs fully and allows more oxygen to be filled in.
Retention is conscious process of holding the breath and controlling the movements of the respiratory system. This is done without tightening or tensing the muscles or nerves. Retention draws your mind inwards, helps to effectively control your mind and your senses. It makes the practitioner experience the inner silence. When retention is practiced after inhalation it is called “Antara Kumbhaka” when practiced after exhalation it is called “Bahya Kumbhaka.” Bahya kumbhaka is difficult and must be practiced only by experienced practitioners. Retention is an advanced practice and is not meant for the beginners.
Pranayama is the heart of yoga practice. It purifies and energizes all the systems and calms the restless mind. It removes tensions from the body, corrects muscular, chemical, electrical, hormonal imbalances and keeps the body energized and free from pain and disease.
Breathing during asana practice All the movements in asana practice are initiated and guided by specific breathing. The breath connects the body and mind, removes stiffness and pain, enhances positive energies and also helps in adapting and settling in an asana. Inhalation is initiated – when lengthening the spine, stretching the hands upwards, bending backwards, when coming out of a forward or lateral bend or a twist. Exhalation is initiated – when bending forward, bending lateral, when making a twist, coming out of a backward bend and bringing the hands downward.
Asanas prepare the lungs for pranayama practice. Conscious and coordinated breathing during asana practice has huge positive impact on the lungs, that promotes perfect Pranayama practice.
Best time to practice Pranayama
Pranayama is difficult and not easy for a beginner and it is best learnt and practiced during “Brahmamuhurt.” Brahmamuhurt is the early hours of each day between 4 am and 6 am. During this time of the day, the body and mind are fresh (free from stress and tensions) there is better focus and no distractions. The five elements are in their purest form, there is better absorption and retention of the vital energies, because there is divine support in the early hours of the day.
Pranayama can be also practiced when traveling, when stuck in traffic, while working on computer or in the kitchen, when the mind is disturbed, when you do not get sleep in the night. Remember to adhere to the guidelines of practice.