Oxygen. It is our life force, our source of survival. Without oxygen, life on planet Earth would cease to exist. Breathing is an involuntary function that occurs in our bodies in order to fill our lungs oxygen and empty out carbon dioxide.
When describing life force, it can be thought of as the energetic fuel on which our bodies function. It is this energy that keeps us moving and it would not be produced if it wasn’t for the process of breathing. In oriental medicine and eastern cultures such as India, there is a Sanskrit word that describes our air-produced life force: Prana.
I don’t speak Sanskrit!
Not to worry!
Simply put, prana is our life force. According to the ancient cultures who created the term, prana is the energy of the cosmos, the nectar of the universe. Prana is all around us and inside of us. It travels through our bodies, which are nothing but empty shells without it. Prana animates us and gives us the sweetness of our “soul”.
Since you’re more familiar with Sanskrit now, let’s explore pranayama.
Now that we have explained the very basic principles of our breathing and prana, let’s take a look at the word pranayama. You have probably heard this term alongside of the word Yoga. Pranayama derives from the words prana, which means energy/ life force and yama which means control.
Subsequently, the word translates to control of your life force; however, there is another translation where it is broken down into prana (energy) and ayama. This tantric translation suggests rather than having control over our breathing, we become aware of it and form a relationship with it.
In general, Pranayama Yoga is also referred to as Breathing Yoga, as we bring our attention to our breath and consciously unite with it
The Importance of Pranayama Yoga
In case you are not familiar with Yoga, it is a collection of mind and body practices that were developed in ancient India. The practice consists of exercises that are culturally connected to Buddhism and Hinduism; however, Yoga is not considered a religion. It is a way of life in which a deeper connection to oneself is cultivated. Yoga enables us to achieve a better physical and mental state and live more balanced lives.
There are many paths of Yoga, but most people are only familiar with one limb of practice, which is asana. This is physical practice of Yoga postures such as Warrior Pose and Sun Salutations. While asana is very important and helpful, it is the foundation which sets us up for the deep and life-altering changes that pranayama offers. In order to truly tap into the life force of prana, breathing requires us to sit in stillness, which is what asana sets us up for.
How Pranayama Practice Changes Your Health and Life
What we learn when we are practicing Pranayama is how to control the full spectrum of our breathing capabilities. We form a relationship with each and every breath we take and acknowledge it as a special moment to take in prana. We learn how to consciously change our breathing rate through alternating between short, shallow breaths and long, deep inhalations and exhalations.
But how does this practice really help us?
The physical benefits of creating a bond with our breathing
1.) When we take deep breaths, we actively experience long inhalations and exhalations using the three sections of our breathing system. We consciously connect to the airway, the lungs, and the muscles of respiration which can lead to amazing transformations in our bodies.
Our airways are the passageways in which prana enters our systems. Oxygen travels in through the nose, which warms the air so that it is not dry when it reaches our lungs. This method of breathing eases any respiratory issues we have and prevents any ailments from being created. As we breathe, our diaphragm moves, which causes our organs to move with it. As the organs in our abdominal cavity slide and stretch, they are able to rid themselves of any foods, liquids or residues that might have been troubling them. Pranayama practice leaves us with a feeling of better health and a cleaner system. Many of us live a sedentary lifestyle, spending most of our time seated. We get minimum exercise, if any at all. The movement caused by the breathing exercises can literally be a life saver, preventing fluids from building up in our limbs and body tissues.
2.) This type of conscious breathing also helps with clear out our lungs. The lower parts of our lungs do not get fully cleared with regular breathing, as we live as a culture of chest-breathers. Many of us do not access abdominal breathing, as we living in constant stress and disconnect from our bodies. By practicing yogic breathing, we clear out the residues from that bottom sections of our lungs, leaving these organs cleaner, healthier, and increasing their capacity to absorb oxygen. They become more flexible and we rid the tissue of toxins that accumulate over time, leaving space for nutrients to nourish them back to a better state.
Breathing as a way to heal your soul
1.) While we are spending time concentrating on our breathing, our minds enter a state of general relaxation. Our focus is shifted from all the stressful thoughts that trouble us, like our debt, jobs, or even our family troubles, to something we have complete control of. Because we all know how chaotic life can get and that chaos is often perceived as unmanageable, taking a moment to check in and connect with our breath creates a sense of peace.
By noticing our breathing, we slowly regain some of that power over our lives. We become more relaxed and begin to see things from a clearer point of view. You could even say that we become empowered with the calmness and clarity necessary for dealing with our emotions and problems more effectively.
2.) Examining the psychological and emotional benefits of pranayama, it is important to mention that they don’t stop in providing us with clarity and emotional stability. Yogic breathing practices play a very important role in cultivating one’s spirituality. As we dive deeper into the world of conscious breathing, Yogis believe that we start activating a subtle part of our nervous system that remains dormant most of our lives. This relationship to prana and our inner selves helps us tap into our most spiritual nature, and even our divine powers that lie within.
So begin today!
To sum this up:
Breathing is your source of life. The practice of pranayama allows you to fully master your breathing, to create a bond with it by becoming aware of it. By becoming intimate with your breath, you can better your health while achieving a more balanced and enlightened state of mind.
Pranayama practice is an enriching investment you can make today that will more than pay off in a happy, amazing life! So, have you really been breathing? Get started today!