Pranayama is made up of two words- prana which means the vital life force required for all the activities and ayama which means control of this force. The ancient practice of yoga is codified by the great sage Patanjali who places pranayama as the fourth limb of the Ashtanga Yoga. He defines pranayama as “the regulation of movements of inhalation and exhalation”. He also mentions that one can destroy the darkness which conceals the light of wisdom with the help of pranayama. Other than that there are various health-related benefits such as physical, emotional and psychological which can be attained with the regular practice of pranayama as well.
Overall well being and health
As per the Hatha Pradipika, when pranayama is performed to purify the nadis or the subtle energy channels, then body becomes slender and active, the gastric fire is ignited, inner voices become prominent and excellent health is improved. Regular practice of suryabhedana pranayama is known to purify the sinuses, remove worms and cure vata disorders. Another prominent pranayama is ujjayi and is said to be beneficial for treating disorders like phlegm and that of the Dhatus. Another type of pranayama- sitkari, is capable of bringing the body to the condition where it does not feel thirst, hunger, lassitude or sleep.
People may not realize it but emotions and breath have a deep relationship. Animals such as rabbit and rat have a fast breathing pattern and thus are extremely nervous, emotionally restless, and mentally unstable and live only for a short duration of time. On the other hand, animals such as tortoise and elephants are slow and deep breathers. This is the reason why they have a calmer personality and also live longer. Deep, conscious and regular breathing help in synchronizing the inherent cardiovascular rhythms and modify the mechanism to regulate acute blood pressure changes by controlling heart rate, peripheral resistance and contractility.The practice of Pranayama is one of the most effective method to regulate the emotional health during Pregnancy also.
Through the practice of pranayama, one can improve the intelligence, memory and creativity. Regular practice of pranayama leads to an improvement in the neural-function of both the central and the peripheral levels of the nervous system. It also creates a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic aspects of our autonomic nervous system. Pranayamas such as Nadi Shodhana are crucial for cleansing the nervous system. Alternate nostril pranayamas or Anuloma Viloma help with the cerebral cleansing and maintaining a balanced personality.
Breathing disorders and lung functions
One of the most popular types of pranayama- Bhastrika leads to an increase in the low frequency and a decrease in the high-frequency band of the heart rate variability spectrum leading to increased sympathetic activity. Asthmatic patients may benefit greatly from the practice of this pranayama such as it helps in keeping a check on patients with acute asthma.
Metabolic and autonomic functions
The practice of Pranayama results in the correction of low blood pressure, increased heart rate and body temperature and skin conductance to normal levels. It also helps in boosting the metabolism and thus is very helpful for people with obesity and hypothyroidism.