Yoga expert Shikha Pandey tells you how effective breathing can help you balance your energies and improve the health of your lungs.
The pandemic brought in a lot of focus on building immunity and enhancing the health of our lungs.
And rightly so because these are two key aspects of our being that determine our body's response to the virus and also its impact on our body.
The age old yogic practice of Pranayama is extremely beneficial in keeping the immunity boosted through breath work and also aids in holistic recovery if you have been exposed to the virus.
The word Pranayama compromises of two root words 'Prana' or life force or vita energy and 'Ayama' or extension or expansion.
Prana is the force that exists in all things, whether animal or inanimate. Although closely related to the air that we breathe, it is more subtle than that.
Pranayama utilises breathings to influence the flow of prana in the nadir or energy channels of our energy body (pranamaya kosha).
Thus, the word Pranayama means extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana. The regular practice of Pranayama can enable to attain a higher state of vibratory energy and awareness.
Prana and Lifestyle
Lifestyle has a profound impact on the energy body and the prana flowing through it. Physical activities and mental fluctuations, all affect the pranas.
Irregularities in lifestyle such as a non nourishing diet, stress, irregular schedules result in what people describe as ‘being drained in energy’.
Depletion of energy from the energy channels lead to metabolic dysfunction and disease over a period of time.
The techniques of Pranayama reverse the process, energising and balancing the flow of pranas within our body.
On a physical level, respiration is also directly related to the heart.
A slow breathing rate keeps the heart healthier by reducing the blood pressure.
Deep breathing also increases absorption of energy and enhancing dynamism, vitality and a sense of well being.
Do's And Don'ts Of Practising Pranayama:
- Practice in moderation and this is the key to an effective practice.
- Pranayama should not be practised during illness except for breath awareness practices.
- The best time to practice is at dawn, empty stomach or before sunset, 3-3.5 hours after a meal. Tranquillising pranayama can be practised before bed time.
- Practice post your asana practice or physical workout and before meditation practice.
- Do not take bath for at least half an hour after your practice to allow your body temperature to normalise.
- Practice in a quiet, clean and well ventilated space preferably at the same place & time everyday.
- Avoid practising in strong sunlight as the body temperature increases during the practice.
- Do not practice under the fan or in a room cooled with air conditioner.
- Never strain yourself. Increasing breathing capacity is a gradual process, so give it time to build.
Practice 1: Natural Breathing
This practice is like saying ‘hello’ to your breath.
A simple technique that introduces the practitioners to their own breathing pattern and respiratory system. This pranayama can be performed by anyone at any time.
Awareness of the breathing process in itself is sufficient to slow down the respiratory rate and establish a more relaxed rhythm.
This in terms helps to centre the thoughts, build focus and calm the mind.
Step By Step Guide to Practice :
- Sit in a comfortable position on the mat or on a straight back chair or lie down in Shavasana.
- Take your attention to your natural breathing process.
- Develop awareness of the rhythm of the breath.
- Feel the breath flowing in and out of your nose. Do not control the breath in any manner. Observe how cool air flows in from your nostrils and how warm air comes out of your nostrils.
- Observe this with detached attitude of a witness.
- Feel the breath move in and out at the back of your throat. Bring the awareness to the region of your throat.
- Next bring awareness to the region of your chest and feel the breath move through the bronchial tubes. Feel the air flowing into your lungs through these tubes.
- Be aware of your lungs expanding as your breathe in and relaxing as you breathe out.
- Bring your awareness to your abdomen and observe how the abdomen rises when you breathe in and how the abdomen sinks in when you breathe out.
- Finally become aware of the whole process of breathing from your nostrils to your abdomen. Observe this for several moments.
- Bring your awareness back to your whole body as a unit and slowly open your eyes.
Practice 2: Abdominal Breathing
Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is practised by enhancing the action of the diaphragm and minimising the action of the rib cage.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity.
During inhalation the diaphragm moves downward, pushing the abdominal contents downward and outward.
During exhalation the diaphragm moves upward and the abdominal contents move inward.
This pranayama can be practised by anyone.
- Equal expansion of alveoli which means better absorption of oxygen.
- Improves lymphatic drainage from basal parts of lungs.
- Massage to the liver, stomach, intestines and other digestive organs that lie immediately beneath the diaphragm.
- improves oxygenation of blood and circulation.
Step By Step Guide to Practice :
- Lie on your back and bend your knees. Feet slightly wider than the hips and let the knees drop in towards each other and touch.
- Place the right hand on the abdomen just above the navel (placed lightly) and left hand next to your body, palms facing upward, thumb and index finger touching.
- Observe your natural breath here.
- To practice abdominal breathing feel as if your are drawing the energy and breath in and out of your navel.
- The right hand will rise along with the abdomen on an inhalation and sink back down on an exhalation.
- Do not expand the chest or move the shoulders.
- Feel the abdomen expanding and contracting.
- Continue breathing slowly and deeply for 5-10 breaths.
- Bring awareness back to observing the physical body as a whole unit and gently open the eyes.
The above two practices also help you take the first step towards incorporating pranayama is your daily routine.
The first step towards building an effective practice is to get in sync with your breath.
Do practice and share your feedback. And remember every time you shape your breath, you shape your mind.
Shikha Pandey is internationally certified in yoga from The Yoga Institute and the founder purnayog.com