Sometimes when I get angry and start ranting to my best friend, she’ll tell me “Just breathe”. Sometimes, I feel like her saying this makes me feel angrier. But lately I discovered that, there’s some truth to what she’s saying. Afterall, there is 1 limb dedicated to Pranayama in the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga..
What is Pranayama?
Prana means ‘life force’ and yama means ‘expansion’. It’s a series of deep breathing exercises that helps to regulate our breath. Simply put, if there’s no breath, there’s no life. Breathing can happen involuntarily and voluntarily. When we practice pranayama, we’re consciously controlling and regulating our breath, our life force to take in more oxygen and removing toxins from our body. When we breathe consciously, we also bridge our mind and our body.
Some benefits of Pranayama:
When we’re angry, happy, sad, or stressed our breathing patterns are different. It is very much connected to our emotional states. Like in my case above, if I was upset, my breath would probably be shallow and fast. To combat this, sit in hero’s pose, and do a simple balancing pranayama like annuloma viloma.
- Helps improve concentration, relieves mood imbalances and stress
Ujjayi breath or victorious breathing is useful in this case. Whenever I’m practicing ashtanga yoga, I make use of ujjayi breathing to help myself be more focused. Because this breath has an ‘ocean’ sound to it, I find that it also helps take my mind off things by making my focus be on my breath.
- Reduces high blood pressure
Stress is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension, is also a pre-cursor to many other heart conditions. Our respiratory system is also closely related to our cardiovarscular system. Changes in breath rates can also contribute to changes in heart rate. When practicing breathing techniques, it also helps to lower our heart rate and thus stress, which may in turn help in alleviating hypertension. However, not all pranayama techniques are suitable for this particular syndrome. Hence before practicing different pranayama techniques, it is good to look out for contraindications and use appropriate modifications for your unique conditions.
One good pranayama to practice for people with high blood pressure is simply, Sukha Pranayama. When inhaling, belly should move out. When exhaling, belly should move inwards. This can be practiced for ratios 1:1 to 16:16. Note that as you begin increasing the ratio, you should also regulating your inhalation or exhalation such that you use the full 16 seconds to inhale or exhale.