One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Pranayama or the science of breath control. Breathing is the only means of supplying our bodies and its various organs with oxygen which is vital for our survival. Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. Pranayama promotes proper breathing. Proper Breathing, in a Yogic point of view, is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain. Pranayama – consists a series of exercises intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant health.
Each cycle of breathing consists of inhaling followed by exhaling and may be analyzed into four phases or stages, each with its distinct nature and traditional Sanskrit name. The transitions from inhaling to exhaling and from exhaling to inhaling involve reversals in the direction of the movements of expansive or contractive movements of lungs, thorax and abdomen. The time necessary for such reversals can be very short, as may be observed if one deliberately pants as shortly and rapidly as he can. Yet they can be long, as one may notice if he intentionally stops breathing when he has finished in breathing or out-breathing. The effects of these pauses, especially when they become lengthened deliberately at first and then spontaneously,-seem remarkable. Thus in our analysis of the Four Stages of Breathing, we shall pay special attention to these pauses, how to lengthen them and how to profit from them.
The Four Stages of Breathing in Yoga
It is a process of drawing in air .
2.Abhyantara Kumbhaka (Pause After Inhaling) Full Pause – Kumbhaka consists of deliberate stoppage of flow of air and retention of the air in the lungs, without any movement of lungs or muscles or any part of the body .
The third stage, Exhalation, is called Rechaka. Like inhalation, it too should be smooth and continuous, though often the speed of exhaling is different from that of inhaling. Normally, muscular energy is used for inhaling whereas exhaling consists merely of relaxing the tensed muscles. Such relaxing forces air from the lungs as they return to a relaxed condition.
4.Bahya Kumbhaka (Pause After Exhaling) Empty Pause
The Fourth Stage of Breathing, the pause after exhaling, is also called kumbhaka, especially when the stoppage is deliberate or prolonged. This empty pause completes the cycle which terminates as the pause ends and a new inhalation begins.
To attain optimum health, 4 types of pranayama should be practiced daily.
Kapalbhati- series of Forced exhalation and involuntary inhalation
Anulom-viloma- Breathing only by one nostril by purposely closing the other nostril alternatively closed with fingers .
Bahya – forced exhalation followed by prolonged pause .
Bhramari – resonating the “om” primordial sound throughout your head and body by closing all the apertures like eyes,ears,lips,glottis and nose .
Pranayama not only prolongs life but controls the
Pranayama – Safety
Pranayama should be safe if you are supervised by an instructor. You should also consult your doctor before you start the practice of Pranayama if you suffer from breathing problems like asthma or shortness of breath.
Pranayama should be satisfying and enjoyable. Therefore, it should not be practiced beyond your limits. It is not about how long you can hold your breath but about controlling one’s breath in a way that it comes out smoother and more relaxed, making exhalation an important part of Pranayama. Pranayama should not be practiced if you are emotionally upset or tired. You must be relaxed before doing it so that you will not run out of breath. The smoothness of breath is of paramount importance in practicing Pranayama. If at some point during practice your breath suddenly becomes rough or uneven, stop and relax. Then, slowly allow your breathing to return to its normal pace.
Some breathing techniques may induce dizziness or even make you lose consciousness. If that happens stop immediately. Relax.
Pranayama needs to be practiced in a place where there is fresh, clean air because in Pranayama, air will be pulled deeper into your lungs, so the air needs to be very clean. And it should be done in an area with room temperature; conditions that are too hot or too cold may affect the regularity of your breathing.
These are just some basic guidelines to keep your practice of breathing exercises safe. It is always best to have a instructor with you every time you practice. Keep in mind not to do Pranayama up to levels that may make you uncomfortable, and to always do things slowly and carefully.
Advantages of Pranayama-
Along with bringing more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, these techniques have also proved to help the prevention of major diseases and curing some minor illnesses. Breathing is one of the ways to get rid of waste products and toxins from our body.
Oxygen is the most vital nutrient in our bodies. It is essential for the proper and efficient functioning of the brain, nerves, Glands and other internal organs. The brain requires more oxygen than any other organ. If the brain does not get proper supply of this essential nutrient, it will cause degradation of all the vital organs of the body and the result is mental sluggishness, negative thoughts, depression and, eventually, vision and hearing declines. Oxygen rejuvenates and purifies blood stream. The quickest and most effective way to purify the blood stream is by taking in extra supplies of oxygen from the air we breathe. The Breathing Exercises described are the most effective methods ever devised for saturating the blood with extra oxygen. : Oxygen recharges the body’s batteries (the solar plexus).Most of our energy requirements come, not from food, but from the air we breathe. By purifying the blood stream, every part of the body benefits, as well as the mind. Scientists have discovered that oxygen is critical for the production of ATP – the chemical basis of energy production in the body called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). If something goes wrong with the production of ATP, the result is lowered vitality, disease and premature aging.
Importance of Healthy Breathing
We know how to breathe. It is something that occurs automatically, spontaneously, and naturally. We are breathing even when we are not aware of it. So it seems foolish to think that one can be told how to breathe. Yet, one’s breathing becomes modified and restricted in various ways, not just momentarily but habitually. We develop unhealthy habits without being aware of it. We tend to assume positions such as slouching that diminishes lung capacity to function properly, which result to shortened breaths. A normally sedentary person, when confronted with a perplexing problem, tends to lean forward, draw his arms together, and bend his head down. All these body postures result to reduced lung capacity. As our duties, responsibilities and their attendant problems become more demanding; we develop habits of forgetting to breathe. The more we concentrate on something, the tenser the muscles become. This leads to the contraction of the muscles in your arms, neck and chest. As the breaths become shorter and shorter. After an extended period of intense focusing, the whole system seems to be frozen in a certain posture.
As our breathing is shallow and quick, we stop taking in sufficient oxygen and eliminating sufficient carbon dioxide. As a result, our bodies become oxygen starved, and a toxic build-up occurs. Plus shallow breathing does not exercise the lungs enough, so they lose some of their function, causing a further reduction in vitality. Animals which breathe slowly live the longest; the elephant is a good example. We need to breathe more slowly and deeply. Quick shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation which leads to reduced vitality, premature aging, poor immune system and a myriad of other factors.
Reasons for Fast and Shallow breathing- The major reasons are: We are in a hurry most of the time. The increasing stress of modern living makes us breathe more quickly and less deeply. We are easily excitable or angry or suffer from Anxiety due to worry. These negative emotional states affect the rate of breathing, causing it to be fast and shallow. Modern technology and automation also reduces our need for physical activity , so there is less need to breathe deeply and we develop the shallow breathing habit. Plus as a result of pollution, our body instinctively inhales less air to protect itself from pollution. The body just takes in enough air to tick over. Lack of oxygen is a major cause of heart disease, Stroke , cancer , fatigue, sleep disorders, anxiety, stomach upsets, heartburn, gas, muscle cramps, dizziness, visual problems, chest pain and heart palpitations. As we go through life, these bad breathing habits we picked up become part of our lives and we can suffer permanent problems. The good news is that these are reversible.
Certainly, Yoga is not the only way to cope with stress and the resultant drop of oxygen supply in the brain brought on by constricted breathing. Taking a break from work or a good laugh may all result into some readjustment of constricted breathing patterns. But people with highly stressful jobs need something more . Deep Breathing Exercises and stretching of muscles, participation in active sports is useful. Going for a walk is very good.
The Ancient sages knew the importance of correct breathing and developed techniques to increase Health and life span and should be be practiced regularly.
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