Saturday, March 27, 2010

Breath of fresh air

I found a nice article explaining how yogic breathing(pranayam) works.

I have compiled a few things from my notes and books for you to read.


Prana means breath, respiration, life, vitality, wind, energy.

Ayam means length, stretching, expansion or restrain.

In simple terms it can be explained as yogic breathing exercises.

How do we breathe? We all breathe in 3 parts

  • Inhalation – Inspiration (puraka)
  • Exhalation – Exhalation (rechaka)
  • Retention – Holding the breath (kumbhaka)

Physical Aspect: In the first stage of breathing, the diaphragm descends causing the abdomen to expand filling in the lower part of lungs. In the second stage intercostals muscles expand the rib cage filling the middle part of lungs with air and lastly our collar bones lift up filling air in the top part of the lungs.

Importance of learning and practicing yogic breathing (Pranayam) we have been breathing since birth. Nobody taught us how to breathe properly. Because of improper breathing habits we use only a fraction of our potential respiratory capacity. It results in not getting maximum oxygen to the cells. Brain cells have high rate of metabolism and require relatively more oxygen. Lack of which leads to mental stress, loss of concentration and control of emotions. Supplying enough oxygen to brain is greatest tool in stress management.(no wonder that immediate and effective remedy for stress relief is taking a deep breath)

Breath(an outward manifestation of prana) is seen as the important link between or physical and mental aspects; a link between body and mind.

Mental benefits:

  • Improved concentration
  • Reduces stress.
  • Better emotional control

Physical benefits:

  • Sufficient oxygen for efficient function of every cell in the body.
  • Rid the body of all the unwanted by-products of metabolism especially carbon dioxide
  • Cleanses and strengthens the physical body and calms, steadies and clears the mind.
  • strengthens the respiratory system
  • Calms the nervous system.

Simple Breathing Techniques

Abdominal Breathing – Laying on your back in corpse pose breath slowly and deeply.

Make proper use of diaphragm.

Feel your belly rise as you inhale and feel it sinking as you exhale.

Full Yogic Breathing – Sit with your legs crossed and back straight.

Keep one hand on abdomen and one on your rib cage gently.

When you inhale, feel the belly expand first then the rib cage and then chest.

As you exhale observe the lower lungs emptied first then the middle and top part at the end.

There are also many other yogic breathing practices namely, Bhasrika(bellows breathing), kapalbhati(breath of fire/skull shining), Anulom-Vilom(alternate nostril breathing/nadi-shodhana),Bhramaree(sounds like bee humming), sitkaree, sitalee .

Hints and cautions about practicing pranayama

Prana should be tamed more slowly and more gradually than lions, elephants and tigers.

  • One should gain sufficient proficiency in Asanas and gain strength and discipline arising there from.
  • Practice on an empty stomach. Evacuate bowels and bladder before your practice.
  • Allow at least 6 hours to elapse after a meal before practicing pranayam
  • Preferably should be done in the early morning or after sunset.
  • Sit in a comfortable posture with back absolutely erect from the base of the spine to the neck.
  • Practice in a clean airy place
  • No strain on facial muscles. Tongue should be kept passive. Eyes should be closed to keep the mind from wandering.
  • Measure your own capacity and never exceed it.
  • Asanas should not be practiced immediately after Pranayama
  • Never practice when exhausted.
The gist of it is using rhythmic patterns of breathing to give ample supply of oxygen to all cells in our body. Focusing on breath alone is the stepping stone for Vipassana meditation as well. our breath has profound impact on our physical and emotional states.
आला सास, गेला सास, जीव तुझा रे तंतर
अरे जगन-मारणं एका सासाचं अंतर
(Breath in, Breath out, life so is your doctrine
Life and death are just a breath apart)
Poet: Bahinabai Chaudhari


goinghome said...

nice post! clear instructions - will get back to practising ! any suggestions on counting breaths for purak, rechak and kumbhak?