Yoga Benefits: Pranayama
One of the more intriguing yogic practices is “pranayama“, or yogic breathing exercises. “Prana” means “vital energy” in Sanskrit, and accordingly pranayama is a yama — a yogic discipline — dedicated to the regulation of the body’s vital energy, via breathwork. Whether you’re dipping your toes into the practice, or aiming to master this art, pranayama’s many techniques offer many yoga benefits for mind, body, and spirit.
One of these yoga benefits is the slowing of the heart beat, and the decreasing of blood pressure. By regulating the breathing, pranayama regulates the blood flow. In addition to the obvious health benefits, many alternative health practitioners say that this reduces wear and tear on the circulatory system.
Many traditional yogic texts say that one of pranayama’s yoga benefits is “toning the organs”. What this means is that it causes the muscles of the diaphragm to stimulate the organs differently than they normally do — almost as though you were giving your internal organs a pleasant massage! This can improve digestion, as well as potentially improving the function of the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and intestines. Many pranayama techniques also strongly activate the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, which strengthens them.
Practitioners report that one of pranayama’s yoga benefits is the reduction of negative emotions. Particularly when performing pranayama exercises that involve strong exhalations, people report that they’re left feeling less angry, sad, frustrated, or bitter, and many people report feeling more peaceful after a pranayama session. It’s almost as though the negative feelings have left the body along with the breath!
Scientists attribute these yoga benefits to a change in the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the fight-or-flight response. Usually the body speeds up breathing in response to negative emotions and release of cortisone and adrenaline. But by regularizing the breathing and changing its speed, this feedback system triggers the opposite way, causing the body to slow its release of these chemicals, causing a change in emotions. While these yoga benefits are most notable immediately after a session, with regular practice they remain over time.
One of the more unusual yoga benefits of pranayama is a reduction in snoring. Scientists hypothesize that it strengthens and tightens up the muscles and other soft tissues in the mouth and throat, so they don’t vibrate as easily at night. Perhaps for the same reason, some practitioners report that pranayama can mitigate asthma.
Pranayama’s a practice that comes with a wide variety of yoga benefits. It’s simple to get started with it, although it’s notoriously difficult to master. What’s more, it can be practiced anywhere — there’s no need for mats, blocks, straps, or other special materials. This one little practice can really change your life!