Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama

Kapalabhati Pranayama is one of the pranayamas that I have adopted in my daily routine since the start of YTT. Its the first thing I do when I get out of bed. In my experience, I feel that it has helped me greatly in digestion and ability to expel negative thoughts in my head, thus, making me largely more productive daily. 

Kapala means “skull” and bhati means “shining”. Kapalabathi is known as a method to cleanse the overall body system so much that when practised regularly, the face will shine radiantly with good health, hence, its terms Shining Skull. This pranayama involves passive inhalation and active forceful exhalations through the nose, using abdominal muscles.

 

How to practise Kapalabathi:

  1. Come to comfortable seated position such as Padmasana (lotus) or Sukhasana.
  2. Place your hands on your knees with palms facing the sky.
  3. Take a few deep breaths to prepare for Kapalabathi.
  4. At the end of the last inhalation, contract the abdominal muscles quickly. This will forcefully push air out of the lungs, making it an active forceful exhalation.
  5. Relax the abdominal muscle, and this will naturally result in passive inhalation.
  6. Repeat this by contracting and “pumping” your abdominal muscles quickly. Passive inhalation will follow. This is considered one pump.
  7. After 20-30 pumps, end on the exhalation. This is considered one round.
  8. Take a few deep breaths after 1 round. Repeat this for 2 more rounds.

 

Physical Benefits:

  • Aids digestion
  • Strengthens and increases the capacity of the lungs 
  • Strengthen abdominal muscles
  • Stimulates blood circulation

 

Mental Benefits:

  • Balances oxytocin
  • Improves concentration and memory

 

Spiritual Benefits:

  • Removing any blocks in nadis
  • Activates chakras in your body
  • Regulates the flow of prana 

 

Important things to take note of:

  • It is best to practise this with no food intake.
  • Women who are pregnant or on moon cycle should NOT practise this.
  • People with major illnesses such as cancer or high blood pressure should also NOT practise this.

Breathe yogis…there is so much more you can breathe!

Why is breathing so important for the body? Life begins and ends with breathing. About 5 minutes without breathing and we are dead. All cells in the body need oxygen to live. Oxygen is necessary for the cell’s energy supply, to ensure its metabolism. Low levels of oxygen will have a direct impact on the functioning of the cell. Breathing is also vital to remove waste products during exhalation, such as CO2 from cellular respiration.

Breathing impacts all the major body’s systems:

  • cardiovascular system: slow, deep breaths will cause the heart rate to slow; inhalation is linked to vasoconstriction and exhalation to vasodilation; blood homeostasis (pH / pO2 and pCO2 to avoid acidosis)
  • nervous system: breathing volumes and rate will either activate or relax the body; the brain consumes a lot of oxygen (20%) and optimal breathing will support intellectual activities and concentration
  • endocrine system: the variation in blood parameters (pO2, pCO2, pH) modulated by breathing will regulate the hormonal activity aimed at restoring homeostasis. For example, a deep inhale and a full exhalation will decrease the production of noradrenaline and if this is done over a few hours, the cortisol level will also decrease.
  • muscular system: as mentioned above breathing is fundamental for metabolism and energy supply (aerobic). A well oxygenated muscle will increase its power and tone. A good exhalation will eliminate the CO2 produced by muscle activity.
  • digestive system: the mechanical movement of the diaphragm during inhalation and exhalation massages digestive organs and stimulates peristalsis so that digestion and transit are improved.
  • immune system: Shortness of breath increases, over time, the level of cortisol which kills lymphocytes (key cells of our immune system).

Breathing is an “automatic” function governed by the autonomic nervous system, but consciously, we can control our breath e.g. modify the amplitude, the frequency, choose to breathe through the nose or the mouth.

When we discussed about the respiratory system during the Yoga Teacher Training and I went on checking the various pulmonary volumes, I was quite amazed at what I discovered. Our lungs have a volume of around 5 L. But the “automatic” breathing, also called “tidal volume”, is only of 0.5 L, so only 10% of our lung capacity! By consciously inhaling fully we can add another 1.5 to 2.5 L (also called “inspiratory reserve volume”) so increasing the air coming in (and out) fourfold to 2L! And by consciously exhaling fully and then inhaling fully we can add an extra 1.2 to 1.5 L (also called “expiratory reserve volume”), so overall increasing the air coming in (and out) sevenfold to 3.5L! And now we use 70-75% of our lung capacity…so much more powerful! So much more oxygen we can provide to our cells, so much more toxins we can get rid of.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have optimal breathing, leading to both physical and psychological consequences. People are now advised to “learn to breathe” and many techniques have emerged for various indications such as stress management, depression, ENT ailments, nasal structure defects, snoring, concentration…Yoga, and Pranayama specifically, have a great role to play there.

Practicing pranayama is a great way to learn to control our breath and leverage its impressive power. Research shows that regular practice of pranayama significantly improves  numerous pulmonary parameters: it increases vital lung capacity, tidal volume, expiratory reserve volume, breath holding time, diffusion capacity, resting respiratory rate…And those indicators are important for both prevention and treatment of all respiratory dysfunctions and illnesses.

So, yogis, don’t forget to practice your pranayama and…breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out….

Cardiac coherence and Ujjayi breath: when old meets new

The impact of breathing on the nervous system has long been established. Increasing the inhalation volume and the respiratory rate will act on the sympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will activate the body: increased heart rate, vasoconstriction, sweating… Conversely, increasing the exhalation volume and reducing the respiratory rate will act on the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system, which will relax the body: slowed down heart rate, cell regeneration, digestion… And when the two systems are in balance, one is serene, both alert and relaxed.

Cardiac coherence is gaining traction and is now regularly used in the cardiology field. Research has shown that regular practice was regulating blood pressure and was significantly decreasing overall cardiovascular risks, the #1 killer in the world today. But what is cardiac coherence? It is a method based on respiratory techniques bringing the cardiac and respiratory systems into resonance and thus balancing our autonomous nervous system. The principles were developed in the 1990s in the United States from medical research in neuroscience and neurocardiology. The technique is simple: it consists of, 3 times a day, breathing calmly at the rate of 6 breaths per minute (inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling over 5 seconds; rate can vary slightly for each person) for 5 minutes (“365 method”). Inhalation is abdominal through the nose and exhalation is through the mouth with pinched lips. To all yogis, does it ring a bell?

When I learned about the Ujjayi breath, it felt familiar! Cardiac coherence is in fact a simplified or less “throat activation” Ujjayi breath. Indeed, in both techniques, one breathes calmly and continuously (without retention), equalizing inhale and exhale, using abdominal inhalation and some restriction on the exhalation. Ujjayi breath, though, is constricting exhalation at the throat level with mouth closed, whilst cardiac coherence is constricting exhalation at the mouth level, with lips pinched. Hence there is more throat activation in the Ujjayi breath and consequently also more building of heat.

What can we learn on Ujjayi breath from recent research on cardiac coherence? Of course, as the two methods have slight differences, one cannot strictly extrapolate research on one to the other. Nevertheless, given the level of similarly, results on one are very likely to constitute a solid proxy for the other. Firstly, both techniques target the physiological balance of the autonomous nervous system through equalization of inhalation and exhalation. The heart rate is constantly changing, with the heart modulating its activity according to internal and external stimuli. By controlling your breathing, you allow an increase in the heart variability amplitude (an important health indicator). Additionally, there is a direct heart-brain link as the heart informs the brain. And by improving your cardiac pattern, you send positive messages to the brain (less stress, a feeling of well-being). Finally, recent research on cardiac coherence has demonstrated numerous benefits on physical, mental and emotional health with short, mid- and long-term effects. Short term immediate benefits include improvement of cardiac patterns and relaxation. Medium-term benefits, after about 4 hours, include hormonal regulation (the main effect being the decrease in cortisol -stress; also increased DHEA -youth and atrial natriuretic factor- antihypertensive), regulation of neurotransmitters (dopamine – pleasure and serotonin – well-being), increased cognitive abilities (increased alpha brain waves for concentration and memory). Long-term benefits, after ten days, include significant regulation of cardiovascular risk (significant regulation of blood pressure and improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels), improved stress management and emotional balance, improved cognitive abilities, increased immunity (in particular via lower cortisol levels), improved conditions for inflammatory diseases and asthma.

Now taking a step back…yoga is a fascinating holistic practice. It encompasses thousands of years of experience and wisdom. It is almost funny to think that a modern successful technique such as cardiac coherence was just “hiding” there, in the millennial knowledge of pranayama. The potential to derive impactful techniques from yoga for the health and wellness space is endless!

Universal Law of Attraction with Kundalini Awakening

Like Karma, what goes around comes around.

The Law of Attraction works on our mental ability. It uses the power of our minds to manifest things and translate whatever we are focusing on to materialize them into reality. It could be anything such as money, job, love, health or relationship.

With the Law of Attraction, positive thoughts attract positive energy/results. And negative thoughts attract negative energy/results.

Everything we as human being have created in this world was essentially first created in our minds. All that we see are the human works in this world. First, expression was made in the mind, and then it gets manifested in the outside world. Hence, things that have done in the world be it good or horrible, all come from the human minds.

It is extremely important that we learn to create the right things in our mind in order to create what we want in our life. 

Simply put, the Law of Attraction says that you will attract into your life whatever you focus on. Whatever you give your energy and attention to will come back to you.

So, if you stay focused on the good and positive things in your life, you will automatically attract more good and positive things into your life. If you are focused upon lack and negativity, then that is what will be attracted into your life.

The entire universe is in our head. The entire energetic make-up of the human being is a self-contained experience giving apparatus with the mind as its engine. There is nothing outside of us, really. It is all a projection of the mind, which is called Maya– illusion. So this karma, these past actions are all carried with us inside our mind, like hidden files on a computer. The entire energy is shaped and coded by the karma when one show up here to have this life experience. We’re each given a distinct coding and placed in this matrix that is our own life. Your subconscious mind holds much of this programming and like a security camera it catches everything you do in this lifetime. As you can imagine, especially in our hectic modern world, the subconscious mind gets pretty filled up. It is this weight of the subconscious mind that puts resistance into your projection as you march forward toward your destiny.

I first heard of Kundalini Yoga during one of my YTT classes. It really caught my thought as how this practice enhances a person’s persona and the power to attract people. Even if the person may be an average Joe or plain Jane, he/she can have the ability to attract people to him/her. I decided to find out more. The more I read, the more it intrigues me on how it can help to make one more aware with consciousness. Most importantly, it is more than just visualization meditation.


What is Kundalini Yoga?

Kundalini Yoga is called the Yoga of Awareness. It is a dynamic, powerful tool that is designed to give you an experience of your soul. It harnesses the mental, physical, and nervous energies of the body and put them under the domain of the will, with the transformation and expansion of consciousness, the awakening and raising of Kundalini Energy up the spine through energy centers called Chakras. The activation and balancing of the chakras is accomplished by the mixing and uniting of Prana (cosmic energy) with Apana (eliminating energy) which generates pressure to force Kundalini to rise, by means of Pranayama (breathing exercises), Bhandas (body locks), in Kriyas (exercise sets), using Asanas (postures), Mudras (gestures), and Mantras (sacred sounds). It is therefore belives that Kundalini Yoga brings balance to the body, mind, and soul.


Using Kundalini Yoga to enhance the Universal Law of Attraction

Kundalini Yoga sets also use the manifestation of thoughts through Visualization, Projection and Focused Attention to attain specific effects.

Through the practice of Kundalini Yoga, an individual can unite his/her consciousness with cosmic Consciousness on a regular basis by carefully performing the exercises and meditations in specific sequence and combination. He/She soon becomes adept at perceiving the movement of energy within and outside of his/her body, and consciously begins to direct its flow to stimulate and awaken the chakras, for healing himself/herself and others, and becomes a co-creator with universal energies. (taken from Transitions to a Heart Centered World – Guru Rattana, Ph.D.)

As it was stated, Kundalini is an incredibly powerful storehouse of psychic energy, sometimes called Shakti, symbolized as a coiled, sleeping snake, resting at the base of the spine (Kundal means curl). Once awakened it uncoils and ascends through the central channel in the spinal column to the Crown Chakra (Sahasrara) at the top of the head, triggering an awakening of consciousness and a transcendent spiritual state.


Effect from practicing Kundalini Yoga

It is often described as ‘meeting you where you you’re at and taking you where you want to go’.  If you can breathe and lean in the right direction, you will benefit. It balances the glandular system and strengthens the nervous system so you feel more vibrant and alive.  It is practical and powerful. It works quickly to give you grace, balance, and most of all, the ability to remain calm, centered, and clear through life’s challenges. As you practice Kundalini Yoga you will grow. You will gain new perspectives and capacities, as well as habits that support a healthy lifestyle.

It is believed that all of us are born with the ability to make proper use of the Universal Law of Attraction. It’s one of the things humans are designed to do. A child can do it, an idiot can do it, a really bad person can do it. There’s no discrimination there.

However, using the Law of Attraction after a kundalini awakening is a bit different:

  • It allows you to utilize this Law more fully and more deliberately due to expanded consciousness
  • It gives greater speed and impact to ALL your intentions, good and bad, so the results of your choices can boomerang on you much more quickly

In summary, our bodies have seven energy centres or chakras beginning with the base of our spine and ending at the top of our head. There is latent energy coiled at the base of the spine and by practicing kundalini this energy will move upwards through each successive chakra to the crown.  Kundalini is subtle as it energizes from within to boost your inner strength and capacity.

Physical benefits may include an improvement in your vitality and overall wellbeing, stronger joints, muscles and spine and it can detoxify the entire body thereby improving the workings of your glands, organs, blood circulation, immune and nervous systems.  Other effects include an increase in your productivity and focus.  Meditation techniques enhance mental concentration, sharpen awareness as well as creating a peaceful outlook so you are better able to deal with setbacks in a more productive and neutral manner.

Enjoy the journey through Yoga which offers many ways for us to rediscover our true self, live with complete confidence and be aware of what we want to achieve when we connect deeply with our mind, body and soul.

Namaste! Have a good day ahead.

Falling asleep with pranayama

Have you ever wished you could fall asleep as soon as your head touches your pillow? I have… I often find myself lying in bed unable to drift off to slumber even though I feel sleepy. Perhaps I have kept my mind too active, too close to bedtime.

Wanting to get longer hours of quality rest, I decided to try incorporating pranayama in my bedtime routine. I have heard of pranayama prior to yoga teacher training but I was not aware that there were SO MANY pranayama techniques! Besides being able to warm your body up and get you energised, there are also “cooling” pranayama that can help you cool down, clear your mind, and maybe even fall asleep more easily. So far, anuloma viloma and murcha have helped to calm my active mind and made me feel more relaxed before I sleep. Researching more on how pranayama affects sleep, I came across many articles recommending bhramari pranayama, which is what I will be trying next!

Sharing here three pranayama techniques that may help you to sleep better 😊

Anuloma Viloma (starting from the left nostril)

  1. Come to a comfortable seated position.
  2. On the right hand, fold the index finger and middle finger to the base on the thumb, forming Vishnu mudra. Left hand can be in Chin mudra resting on left knee.
  3. Using the thumb of the right hand, gently close the right nostril and inhale using the left nostril.
  4. Close the left nostril using the ring finger and slowly open the right nostril to exhale.
  5. Inhale from the right nostril, close it with the thumb, and slowly open the left nostril to exhale. This is 1 round and you can practise this technique for about 10 rounds.
  6. The inhale to exhale ratio should be 1:2 as longer exhalations can calm your body down.

Note: It is important to start the first inhale from the left nostril as it will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (and reduce sympathetic activity), which will induce a calming effect on your body. Starting from the right will activate the sympathetic nervous system, which will do the opposite – keeping your mind and body alert and active. You may consider doing that at the start of your day instead.

 

Murcha (Swooning Breath)

This is an advanced pranayama. However, there are variations such that even beginners can practise it and reap the benefits. Sharing here a basic variation:

  1. In a comfortable seated position, place palms gently on knees. Take a few deep breaths to prepare.
  2. When ready, take a slow inhale and tilt your head back and press palms on the knees to straighten the elbows. Keep your shoulders away from the ears. You can incorporate Ujjayi Pranayama here too.
  3. When you reach the top of your breath, tilt your chin down (Jalandhar Bhanda, chin lock) and hold your breath here (antar khumbaka) for as long as you can do so comfortably.
  4. When you can no longer hold your breath, gently bring your head back to neutral position and slowly exhale through your nostrils.
  5. Resume normal breathing and observe the effects of holding the breath before repeating.
  6. You can do this for 3-5 rounds.
  7. For more advanced options, you can incorporate Kechari Mudra (rolling tongue back) and Shambhavi Mudra (roll eyeballs towards the centre of the eyebrows, or the third eye chakra).

Note: The literal meaning of ‘murcha’ is fainting, hence you may feel some dizziness and swaying in this pranayama due to the prolonged holding of breath. The swooning effect also comes from engaging the Jalandhar Bhanda which compresses the carotid sinuses. Breath retention may induce a state of void in your mind, removing distractions.

Caution! Those with high/low blood pressure, mental disorders, brain and heart conditions should not practise this pranayama.

 

Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. In a comfortable seating position, use your thumbs to gently press down on the cartilage between your cheeks and ears.
  2. Index and middle fingers gently cover your eyes, while ring fingers are at the side of the nostrils and little fingers at the corners of your mouth.
  3. Inhale softly and deeply, and as you exhale, make a humming sound from the back of your throat. Feel the vibrations through your head and face.
  4. You can do this for up to 5 minutes.

Note: The humming sound and vibrations produces a meditative effect. You can think of it as drowning out the constant “chatter” of your overactive mind. This pranayama also has effects of reducing anxiety and relaxing the face so you can practise this any time you feel stressed or anxious too.

How Pranayama helps improving respiratory system​

Yogic breathing "pranayama" is known for improving our health, physically and mentally. There are many kinds of pranayama exists, and Anuloma-viloma - one of the pranayama has amazing benefit for developing your respiratory system.

What is Pranayama?

Prana: Life energy
Ayama: Regulation

Pranayama is considered as the main component of Yoga. In Sanskrit, “Prana “(prāṇa (प्राण)) means life energy or life force. Prana is also known as Chi (氣, ) in Chinese, and Ki (気) in Japanese. And “Ayama” means regulated expansion and control. 

Together, “Pranayama” means as yogic energy regulation practice.  

Pranayama is said to have so many physical and mental benefits and allow us to heal and achieve our human well-being.

Physical practice of poses (asana practice) is known by a lot of people as “Yoga” but it is just an one part of it. This breathing exercise pranayama is as… or more important than the asana practice itself.

There are many types of pranayama, however, pranayama is very simple; inhale (puraka), exhale (recaka) and some of the advanced pranayama includes retention (kumbaka).

Anuloma-Viloma (Alternative Nostril Breathing Ⅱ)

One of the most basic, yet powerful pranayama, Anuloma-Viloma (Alternative Nostril Breathing Ⅱ) is highly recommended for those who wants to improve respiratory systems and cardiovascular systems, and also good for asthma problems. It is also said to help reducing stress. 

How to practice Anuloma-Viloma pranayama?

Here’s a step by step guide of Anuloma-Viloma pranayama practice:

  1. Sit still and quietly in a comfortable position. Spine straight. Allow you eyes to be closed gently 
  2. Using your right hand, and fold your middle and index finger inside the palm
  3. Place your thumb on your right nostril and, ring and pinky fingers on your left nostril
  4. Close your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale through your left nostril. Inhale all the way to your stomach
  5. Release your thumb and close your left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers. Exhale fully 
  6. Inhale from the right nostril 
  7. Exhale from the left nostril
  8. Inhale from the left nostril
  9. Repeat…

* In this Anuloma-Viloma pranayama, it is important to start inhaling from the left nose to achieve the benefit from this practice
* Make sure to practice this on and empty stomach – highly recommended to practice before waking

Benefits of Anuloma-Viloma pranayama

There are so many benefits by practicing Anuloma-Viloma pranayama and here are a few of many of them;

  • Enhance respiratory system
  • Improve sinus inflammation
  • Enhance lung function
  • Improvement of anxiety
  • Positive impact on cardiovascular system
  • Lower blood pressure and heat late
  • Good for skin
  • Reduce stress

Take away

  1.  Although Asana (pose) practice is known as Yoga by a lot of people,  Pranayama also plays a huge part in Yoga
  2. There are many kinds of Pranayama, and it enhances our physical and mental health
  3. Anuloma-Viloma pranayama helps improving your respiratory system as well as other benefits for your overall health

Reflecting and resetting my knowledge of Yoga

I was introduced to yoga at least a decade ago. To me, Yoga was then considered as a mild exercise regime with movements incorporated with breathing techniques.

Fast forward, it has somehow become a habit for me to go for yoga classes in hope to increase flexibility, stamina and strength. However, I have been asking myself why my flexibility has not been improving and why am I not able to get into more advance poses like crow pose or even headstand?

With the current COVID-19 situations, classes were limited and it is even not possible to get postures corrected through zoom classes or online app. The only way to self-improvement, I thought was to embark on this yoga teacher training to gain the foundation of yoga and deepen my practice and knowledge.

The experience has been amazing and mind-blowing with Tirisula Yoga, and I believe there will be more to come until the day we graduate. Every week, we discover something about ourselves and our ability to achieve something I do not believe I can do it.

Our trainer, Master Paalu emphasizes the capacity of one’s mind. The works of the human mind and how the power can be unleashed to achieve what seems impossible. Using this application, he applies to our yoga movements.

Fundamentally, it is about thinking of the muscles moving in the body as we practice, can help them to work more efficiently by connecting it with our movement.

By adding conscious movement and visualization to our practice, we will be able to make our movements more intentional and the signals you’re sending to your brain will be stronger. Finally, the conscious movement then can not only lead to more effective practice but also better form, reduced risk of injury, and potentially better results.

Using one of the most common poses – Adho Mukha Shavanasana (downward facing dog), the engagement of rectus femoris and using hip flexors are important. The rectus femoris acts as a synergist of hip flexion and has increased activity with abduction and external rotation of the hip joint while hip flexors create stability in order to stretch the hamstrings and calf muscles, while opening the shoulders to improve overall postural alignment.

Through the yoga practices with Master Paalu, we learnt how to activate the correct muscle groups during poses and utilizing proper muscle activation and technique which will help prevents pain and injury and most importantly the breathing techniques that go along with the movements and transitions of poses.

Besides learning the asanas (known as poses), there are more to Yoga. Yoga is a practice for internal and external wellbeing which gradually increase my energy levels and overall happiness. We were taught not to focus only on the asanas but to practice integrated breath (for the soul) and meditation (for the mind).

Right now, I’m motivated and committed to learn and embrace the art of yoga building the foundation of deep yoga practice through asanas, pranayama coupled with mudras and learning of the 7 Chakras to find fulfilment in achieving mind-body-soul balance.

Walking Meditation with Pranayama

Following our theory session on Pranayama in the third weekend of our training course, I thought I could experiment with incorporating in my morning walks the key Pranayama techniques that Master Paalu had taught us. These were:

  • Gentle, regulated and extended breath
  • Using the standard ratio of 1:2 (inhalation:exhalation)

I started with the most basic ratio of 4 counts of inhalation to 8 counts of exhalation. Even then, it was not as easy as I had thought! I had to slow down my steps, and concentrate hard on coordinating each footstep with a breath count to achieve the desired regulated state. I must have looked pretty strange to passers-by in the first few days of my experiment. 

As the days passed, I grew more comfortable with the experience, and was able to lengthen the breath counts slightly, even fitting in breath retention in between. Personally, I still find the mindful walking practice described in my earlier blog which involves focusing on the surroundings more enjoyable. However, I do find this practice of “walking Pranayama” a lot more effective in helping to sharpen mental concentration.

Curious to find out if “walking Pranayama” is just my own somewhat unorthodox approach, I decided to do some research on this topic. I found out that walking meditation is indeed practised in several branches of the Buddhist tradition, typically in between periods of sitting meditation. 

When it comes to the Yoga tradition, Pranayama is certainly predominantly a seated practice. Nonetheless, there does exist a practice named Bhramana Pranayama (“going round” Pranayama) which is the practice of controlled breathing performed while walking. 

Some of the benefits of Bhramana Pranayama include improving stamina and endurance through fine-tuning the heart and lung, and releasing negative thought and energy. 

This practice could be a less intimidating entry-point for beginners to the Pranayama practice, or perhaps a nice occasional alternative to a seated Pranayama practice for more active people who find it challenging to stay focused while staying still. 

I can’t wait for the day when I can practise this without having to wear a face mask!

 

Breathe

This has been a period of ‘firsts’: I gave my first yoga lesson, and my friend had her first ever yoga lesson from me. She said afterwards: “I realized I don’t really know how to breathe.” Such a simple, yet profound statement, made me think about why breathing is so important.

One of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga is Pranayama, which is sometimes translated as ‘extension of prana’ (breath / life force) or ‘breath control’. Different Pranayama and breathing techniques can be used for different reasons, and with different benefits.

Some benefits are immediately felt, for example with sheetali / sheetkari breathing – sucking air through the tongue or teeth to help cool the body. You can immediately feel the cooling effect of evaporation, as air passes over your tongue.

Other benefits can be observed over time. For example, a study has shown that daily Pranayama practice resulted in statistically significant reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure over a period of 6 weeks.

Other benefits may be even more subtle. A recent study has shown that breathing has a direct effect on the levels of noradrenaline in the brain, a natural chemical messenger, which “If produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.”

Some people – swimmers, singers, actors – train specifically in how to control their breathing, in order to get the most out of their performance. The physiological benefits of Pranayama on the body are already well understood. But when considered as one of the limbs of yoga, it could be said that Pranayama helps us to get the most out of our lives.

I was grateful that I could help my friend become more aware of her breathing. And I hope she will not only learn ‘how to breathe’, but also reap the benefits.