Did you know that an average human breathes 10-15 times in a minute which is close to 21,600 times per day? We inhale around 500 ml of air in each breath which is around 11,000 Litres per day! It is crucial to breathe correctly in order to stay fit. Proper breathing improves concentration and enhances our ability to focus.
Have you ever noticed what type of breaths you take? Shallow or deep? In today’s modern world, we encounter multiple situations which are non life-threatening and get stressed out easily. This makes our breath short and shallow. When you breathe shallowly, called chest breathing, air enters mainly into your upper chest with very little entering your lower chest. This causes a lack of oxygen in your blood vessels, which can create strain on your heart and lungs.
You can bring positive changes to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing by bringing awareness to the body and consciously practising breath-control exercises. Breath is a carrier of Prana which is the vital force of life. When your Prana becomes unbalanced, you become susceptible to illness and disease in the body, mind, and spirit. Pranayama is a practice of breathing using different techniques. It is one of the eight limbs of yoga as written by Maharishi Patanjali in his scripture “Yoga Sutra” around 1700 years ago. Yoga Sutra 2.49 defines Pranayam as
तस्मिन् सति श्वासप्रश्वासयोर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः
“Controlling the Inhalation and Exhalation once asana is accomplished is Pranayama”.
One should practice deep breathing which is also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing. It is done by completely filling your lungs with air, as though you are breathing into your belly, ribcage, and upper chest, and then exhaling completely. Deep breathing not only connects you to your inner self but also cures depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, chronic pain, and even life-threatening illness. It increases oxygen absorption in the blood. Deep breathing reduces emotional, nervous, cerebral and muscular stress. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system of the body which elevates the mood, strengthens the immune system and reduces blood pressure. It brings the body into a calm and composed state. According to studies, you can inhale and exhale up to seven times as much air during belly breathing than in shallow, chest-based breathing.
Deep breathing also helps prepare the body for yogic exercises, such as meditation and cleansing kriyas. It helps oxygenate your blood and nourish your entire body. Intentionally taking deep breaths when we are stressed helps us stay calm.
Also, it is important to breathe through your nose. When we breathe through the nose, nasal cells produce nitric acid which expands blood vessels in the lungs and increases the exchange of Oxygen and Carbon dioxide.
There are many other breathing techniques that practitioners of Yoga follow. Some of them are :
- Thoracic breathing: In this breathing technique you become aware of the expansion of your lungs as you breathe into the lungs upwards and outwards during inhalation and dropping of the lungs as you exhale.
- Sitali Pranayama – In this Pranayama the tongue is rolled laterally to create a cooling mechanism upon inhalation. This breathing improves focus, reduces agitation, anger, anxiety, lowers Blood Pressure, and cools the body.
- Yogic breathing: This technique is followed by Yogis where they take a deep breath slowly filling the abdominal area, chest, shoulders and neck area. The air is then let out by releasing it from the stomach, chest and finally from the shoulder and neck. It has all the benefits of deep breathing.
- Kapalbhati Pranayama: In this breathing, technique inhalations are passive while exhalations are forceful. It is excellent for detoxification. It also strengthens the abdominal muscles and stimulates the circulation of blood.
- Nadi Shodhana Pranayama: This pranayama involves breathing from one nostril at a time. Inhaling and exhaling from the left nostril, also known as Chandrabhedi Pranayama, has a cooling effect on the body. It activates the right side of the brain and relieves hypertension excessive heat and relaxes the nervous system. The opposite of this when we breathe in and out from the right nostril is known as Suryabhedi Pranayama. This technique is fire dominated and heats up the human system.
- Ujjayi Pranayama: In this breathing technique you have to roll your tongue and touch your palette with the tip of the tongue so that the throat gets constricted and produce a hissing sound while inhaling and exhaling. Ujjayī breathing will improve your metabolism and regulate thyroid levels in the body. It also improves the voice and is beneficial in chronic colds and coughs.
- Breath Retention: Holding the breath either during inhalation or exhalation for a few seconds is excellent for strengthening the lung capacity. This also facilitates better and greater absorption of oxygen as while you retain your breath, you supply more oxygen to various parts of the body.
- Bhastrika Pranayam: This breathing technique involves vigorous breathing where you have to take a series of powerful inhalations and exhalations. This Pranayam improves the respiratory and digestive system by keeping the lungs clear and toning the abdomen.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing: Also known as Anulom Vilom Pranayam is done by breathing alternately from the left and right nostril. This breathing reduces stress, improves concentration, memory and regulates blood pressure.
Your life span will depend on the number of breaths you take. The deeper the breaths, the more will be your life. Yoga Asanas are never complete without proper breathing. Remember always to inhale when the body is stretched and exhale when the body is contracted while doing any Asana. Establishing a daily routine of proper breathing can bring improvement in the health, vitality and confidence of an individual.
All the above-mentioned breathing and Pranayama should be done under the guidance of a qualified Yoga Teacher and with the consultation of a Doctor as they have a strong impact on your body and mind.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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