The word “pranayama” can be translated from Sanskrit as “breathing control”, “respiratory cessation”, or “prana management”. Prana is not simply oxygen. According to the yoga teaching, it is the life force and energy. It permeates space, being present everywhere. We exchange it with the universe and we must learn to control it. Pranayama can be begun only after asanas have been mastered well, which takes about one year of regular practice. Asanas brings strength to the body and sustainability to the mind, preparing a person to work with the powerful tools of pranayama. When breathing practices begin, every beginner needs an experienced teacher. Even if you are fully confident and prepared theoretically, you should still start doing pranayama upon visiting the yoga class. For this reason, we will not be providing any specific techniques here.
Pranayama is practiced sitting in meditative asanas, where you should be able to remain immobile and calm for a long time, keeping your back straight. The classic option is Padmasana (Lotus Pose) or its simplified versions. We apply muscular locks (Bandhas) in order to preserve the prana inside. Pranayama techniques work in four phases: inhaling (Puraka) is for energy absorption; delaying after inhaling (Antar Kumbhaka) is for distribution within; exhaling (Rechaka) is for the energy’s return; and delaying after exhaling (Bahir or Bahya Kumbhaka) is for gratitude, peace, and emptiness. All pranayama techniques consist of various modifications of these four phases, but the breath holdings (Kumbhaka) are of paramount importance, and everything is done for their sake.
Health ImpactsThe concept of prana is quite consistent with the scientific approach to human physiology. Breathing is one of the body’s most important functions, which is why death occurs very quickly upon its termination. Oxygen is energy, and a good level of controlling oxygen and carbon dioxide is undoubtedly valuable for a person’s health.
All pranayama instructors and practitioners emphasize virtually the same benefits: increasing life duration, reduced stress level, ease and sensitivity of the body, loss of excess weight, etc.
But what about medical opinion? What are the specific physiological impacts that have been confirmed by research? A review of research reports shows a significant improvement in the following indicators:
- ventilatory lung function;
- cardiorespiratory performance;
- maintaining homeostasis of blood;
- lipid profile of blood;
- psychological variables, such as anxiety and stress;
- some psychomotor functions of intellectual impaired children.
Research continues. Thousands of years of enriched experience in pranayama techniques offers a wide and fertile field of activity for medical science and new exciting opportunities for practitioners.