Pranayama – the cessation of breathing and expansion of prana.
Prana means “vital life force” and Ayama means “to extend or draw out”. Together, Pranayama means breath control.
Before hearing of this term pranayama, I’ve never given extra thoughts as to why yoga teachers tell students to take deep breaths and throughout the class, give reminders to “breathe”. I knew breathing regulates our heart rate, making the movements from pose to pose more manageable. Until recently, when I was introduced to the different types of pranayama techniques that I was wowed by it.
So, what exactly is pranayama? It involves techniques controlling our breaths in various ways.
According to Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, sutra 2.50:
bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah
This translates to “that pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.”.
The three aspects of breath are:
- Exhalation: Training the exhalation is removing the jerkiness, allowing the flow to be slow and deep, as well as diaphragmatic.
- Inhalation: Training the exhalation also means eliminating jerkiness, breathing slowly, and using the diaphragm.
- Transition: Between exhalation and inhalation, and between inhalation and exhalation there is a transition, which is experienced as suspension, retention, or cessation, etc. The training of the transition is to make it very smooth as if there were no pause at all.
One of the breathing techniques that I would like to talk about is Anulom Vilom – Alternate Nostril Breathing.
What attracted me to this pranayama is that it improves digestion. I am someone with poor digestion and irregular bowel movements. When I first tried Anulom Vilom, just 5 minutes in and I felt the need to go to the toilet! How quick is the effect of it? Given the stressful lifestyle and the amount of food some of us take due to convenience, this is one pranayma that I think is highly suitable!
Some other benefits of Anulom Vilom are:
- Boosts respiratory system
- Reduces stress
- Helps in keeping mental disorders at bay
- Improves concentration
- Boosts and improves digestion
The steps to practice Anulom Vilom:
- Sit in a cross-legged or meditating position, making sure the spine and head are straight.
- Close eyes and relax for a few minutes and when relaxed and ready, to cool the body, take your right thumb and place it on the right nostril (refer to the left image below)
- Press the right thumb with a slight force so that airflow through the right nostril is temporarily stopped. And take a deep breath from the left nostril.
- Then release the thumb, place your ring and pinky finger on the left nostril, and release the breath through the right nostrils (refer to the right image below)
- Making sure breath is slow and ratio for inhalation and exhalation to be 1:1 and graduation work up to 1:2
*to heat up the body, take your ring and pinky finger and place it on the left nostril, breathe in through the right nostril, then release the fingers and place the right thumb on the right nostril and release the breath through the left nostril.
Picture source: https://www.myupchar.com/en/yoga/pranayama/anulom-vilom-pranayam-yoga-steps-benefits-in-hindi
Have fun with this! Hope you’ll experience the same effect I had!