Pranayama – breathing exercises in yoga

In Pranayama, body and mind are brought into harmony through various breathing exercises. It is about controlling the breath, which is used directly in yoga but also beyond. But why is breathing technique so important in yoga? And why is it so important (aside from the fact that breathing keeps us alive)?

BEFORE you continue reading, please take a deep breath! Admittedly, it has become a long article. BUT: For me personally, Pranayama has already done a lot. I consider it to be one of the most important aspects of all yoga. Many yoga teachers and yogis around me have a similar view. For this reason, I can only say: The journey into the world of Pranayama is worth a closer look.

In a typical yoga class, we are encouraged to breathe consciously. In addition, inhaling and exhaling are linked to certain movement sequences. In order to practice a yoga asana correctly, there is more to it than just the right posture. Only when we start to harmonize, movement and breathing do we feel the full benefits of yoga for body, mind, and soul.

Here you can jump directly to a chapter:

1- What is Pranayama?

Yoga breathing, also called Pranayama (Sanskrit: प्राणायाम), is the science of breath control. It includes various exercises aimed at maintaining the health and vitality of the body.

The word Pranayama is derived from the following terms:

  • Prana – life energy, life force
  • Yama – self-discipline, control
  • Ayama – Extension, expansion, without limitation

Pranayama is supposed to awaken and strengthen inner vitality, but that is not done with simple, deep breaths. It is intended for yogis and yoginis to prepare for a yoga session and get into a meditative mindset. Conscious breathing continues like a red thread through the yoga exercises. Only then can we really immerse ourselves and feel the positive effects of yoga.

The breathing process works like this: we breathe in, which allows oxygen to enter our body. This reaches the entire body system via the lungs and blood and charges it with energy. The second step is the exhalation of carbon dioxide, which also removes toxic substances from the body. In Pranayama, we create the right balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. The absorption of prana through breathing connects body, mind, and soul in the broadest sense.

Let’s be honest: Everyday life is packed with stress. Work, family problems, or financial worries. Something is always. That’s why we tend to ignore our breathing. There just isn’t time to think about it (although we do it 24/7). This makes breathing rapid and shallow, and we only use a very small part of the lungs’ capacity. This, of course, leads to a lack of oxygen and can cause a wide variety of problems (such as heart problems, sleep disorders, reduced performance, or tiredness). Nervousness and impatience are also often a result of not enough prana in the body. That is why it is so important to practice deep breathing through Pranayama systematically and regularly.

These are the four stages of Pranayama:

  • Puraka (inhalation)

Puraka is the one-time inhalation of breath. This process of inhalation should be done calmly and, most importantly, evenly.

  • Abhyantara Kumbhaka (pause after inhalation)

After inhaling, a conscious pause is made in the second step of Pranayama. The airflow is interrupted, the air is retained in the lungs, and there is no movement of the body. How to perform this step correctly is explained later in the exercise instructions.

  • Rechaka (exhale)

The third stage relates to exhalation. Just as with inhaling, rest and regularity are required. However, the rate depends on the particular breathing exercise and may differ from inhalation. Normally, when you breathe in, you need the muscles, and when you breathe out, relaxing them is enough. In Pranayama, the pranayama breathing exercises, the air is often quickly evacuated from the lungs, which can sometimes sound strange. Especially in a course with a lot of participants. But you get used to it and it’s now part of my everyday life.

  • Bahya Kumbhaka (pause after exhalation)

The fourth stage of breathing may seem strange to most beginners at first. Because after exhaling, there is a pause. This closes the circle, and the process starts all over again. The eternal cycle of breath!

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2- Conscious breathing as the source of life

Some of you may know Swami Sivananda? Here’s an interesting quote that I still remember today:

I overheard somewhere that at 15 breaths per minute, you live about 75 to 80 years. But if you breathe only 10 times a minute, you can live to be 100 years old. I’m just too young to check that. What remains: The speed at which you breathe is said to have an impact on the length of your life.

“A yogi measures lifespan by the number of breaths, not the number of years of life.”

Swami Sivananda Saraswati / Renowned Yoga Master

Conscious breathing is an integral part of yoga practice. It is the essence that helps us to get the energies flowing in the body. From a biological point of view, it affects our physical, mental and emotional state. Internal and external perception is also controlled by breathing and creates awareness.

3- Positive Effects and Benefits of Pranayama

Breathing is a constant and integral part of our lives. And yet we hardly pay any attention to it. It is an autonomous mechanism of the body, which also works without conscious execution. But then, why is breathing (in yoga) so important to us?

Here are my top 6 points:

  1. Pranayama improves the self-control of the mind and body. By consciously controlling your breath, you can control emotions better, and your quick-wittedness (in a positive sense) increases. A clear mind leads to better decisions.
  2. Pranayama reduces the toxins in our bodies. As a result, the immune system is strengthened, which reduces susceptibility to diseases.
  3. Pranayama teaches us to breathe correctly. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to chest breathing and only use a small part of our lungs for our breathing. Even if we know that this is not good, automatism is difficult to change. With yoga breathing, we increase the capacity of our lungs and supply the body with more oxygen.
  4. Pranayama helps us with digestion (I wasn’t aware of this before writing the article). Breathing the right way stimulates the metabolism and thus improves well-being.
  5. Pranayama is a spiritual experience and takes us on a journey through the body and mind (similar to meditation).
  6. Pranayama promotes concentration and focuses on the essentials. You are less likely to be distracted, which reduces stress and relaxes your body. Breath control leads to more serenity and inner peace.

4- Breath control and what to look out for

Changing breathing patterns can lead to different states of mind. Because conscious breathing activates the cerebral cortex, which has an influence on the sensation. Slowing our breathing has a calming effect on our emotional state.

Breathing exercises or Pranayama should be practiced with caution. When practicing for the first time, having a teacher accompany you is advisable. For example, just ask your yoga studio which yoga workout also includes Pranayama. After a short first impression, it is easy to do at home and integrate into everyday life. However, caution is advised if you suffer from breathing problems, such as asthma or shortness of breath. In this case, it is best to consult your doctor if you are unsure.

A note in advance: Pranayama should give you a satisfying and pleasant feeling. Therefore, the design should also meet this requirement – stay relaxed! Some beginners imagine that Pranayama is about being able to hold your breath for as long as possible. Absolutely wrong! It’s about controlling your breath. It should be a harmonious flow, and the body should receive more prana (life energy).

Breathing should not be jerky or erratic but should be smooth, stable, and continuous. This is one of the most important principles in Pranayama. If your breathing suddenly becomes uneven or rapid at any point in the practice, pause the practice and return to your normal breathing.

From my personal experience, I can say that some breathing techniques can make you feel dizzy at first. If you feel dizzy, stop the exercise immediately.

Pranayama should be practiced in a place where you feel comfortable. Fresh and clean air is a must-have! Smoke or even the smell of chemicals is not recommended. It should also not be too hot or cold. A comfortable room temperature (18°C to 22°C) is perfect.

These are just some basic guidelines to help you do breathing exercises safely. You should always feel comfortable doing it because that’s exactly what the exercises are designed for

5- Pranayama exercises

Here is an overview of the breathing exercises from Pranayama. As mentioned above, Pranayama revitalizes the body. The different breathing techniques will help you practice Pranayama.

Pranayama exercises for beginners:

  • Anuloma Viloma
  • Kapalabhati

Advanced Pranayama Exercises:

  • Introduction to the Bandhas
  • Jalandhara Bandha
  • Moola Bandha
  • Uddiyana Bandha
  • ujjayi
  • Bhastrika
  • Surya Bheda
  • Samanu

We will soon publish a detailed description of the pranayama exercises. To stay up to date, sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.

6- Prana, Pranayama and the Effects on the brain

In yoga, we learn to control and consciously control prana, i.e., the life force. While the breath controls the prana, you should not confuse the breath with the prana itself. Breathing is probably the easiest way to control the flow of prana. Once you are able to control prana through Pranayama, you can direct it to other organs and areas of the body as well. I learned this a few years ago through the Two Hearts Meditation.

When you focus on breathing, you live in the present moment. With conscious breathing, you leave the past and the future behind and arrive in the here and now. That alone is a form of meditation. AND: It activates different areas in your brain. Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata (more primitive brain functions), while conscious breathing is controlled by the cerebral cortex (for higher brain functions). So, through pranayama practice, the cerebral cortex is stimulated and develops. Around the cerebral cortex are the brain regions that are responsible for our emotions – these are balanced by a conscious breathing technique. Therefore, it helps to breathe deeply even in stressful situations. We’ve all heard that before, right?

So: It’s time that we control our breathing with the mind and thus live more consciously.

7- Always take a deep breath

Was that too much information?

It can also be explained simply: Think of the breath as the oil in a car. Prana is the fuel, and the mind is the engine. Try to delve into the connection of each element and connect them in a way that suits you. We are also prepared for difficult times when things don’t work so well, and life makes it difficult for us. The journey begins on the yoga mat and where it goes is up to your imagination.

We put our heart and a lot of love into all posts. Did you learn something new here? Don’t leave your fellow yogis in the dark – share this article so they can learn more about Pranayama too. Good for karma.

Read also: Yoga and cycling: Yoga can be so good


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