Everything You Need to Know about Pranayama Benefits
Modern life is full of stress, fatigue, anxiety and a number of other issues connected to health and weight. Unhealthy habits, tons of work, irregular working hours, sleep deprivation and many other factors ruin your mental and physical health. Thousands of people neglect their wellbeing and ignore health issues because of lack of time. This is a major mistake that leads to unwanted consequences. Now let’s keep in mind that every problem such as this has a solution, and this case is certainly not an exception. Yoga and meditation, together with pranayama benefits, are keys to your overall health and energy. These practices strengthen the body, lower the levels of stress and anxiety and help one to slim down.
Quite a few people don’t realize that one of the major components of yoga and meditation is breath-work. Proper breathing guarantees 50 percent of the success. There are various breathing techniques, each one having some differences in benefits and so it is important to know about both the techniques and their benefits. In this article you will find detailed information about pranayama benefits, along with some recommendations for your well-being. Read on!
Yoga: a short guide
Yoga is an ancient practice that has been gaining popularity in our modern society. There are many forms of yoga and these are often referred to as yoga styles. For example, one of the most popular is Hatha. This style brings more physical loading than others which is attractive to people wanting a ‘workout’ experience. There are several other variations of Hatha so people can find what is most suitable for their body and mindset. The first part of each session focuses on your breathing technique, the second – on the poses, and the third step is a resting period (14).
Yoga offers a number of benefits for your body. For instance, it boosts your body’s capabilities – strengthening muscles and developing your breath. Yoga supports cardiovascular health by promoting a stasis of lower blood pressure. It also helps to reduce headaches, lower back pain and more. There are people who find it very useful for getting rid of insomnia. This practice can an effective way to increase flexibility, muscle strength and athletic performance. Even further it helps one to maintain proper function of their metabolism which contributes to weight loss and protects one’s body from injuries (7).
Yoga and mental health
In addition to physical benefits, yoga is also highly beneficial for your mental health. This is the go-to for many people as one of their best stress management methods. It is a well-known fact that stress has a devastating effect on your health. It can affect everything – your body, thoughts, mood, relationships and behavior. You may face headaches, chest pain, stomach upset, anxiety, irritability, depression, tobacco use, overeating or undereating and more (10). This is why it is vital for each of us to know how to manage stress and its consequences.
Yoga will most likely be the best option for you if you suffer from any of these issues or want to prevent them. There are asanas, which are meditation postures in yoga, for both the beginner and the more advanced practitioners like yogis. One of the great pluses is that you can perform it at home or in a park – basically anywhere. But what is pranayama and what benefits can it offer? Let’s into this aspect of yoga.
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What is pranayama?
Pranayama is one of the main components of yoga. This is a breath regulation technique which promotes both mental and physical wellbeing. It can roughly be translated from Sanskrit (original language of the founders of yoga) as the “control of life energy”. Practically speaking, it is a set of breathing exercises and patterns. During this technique people control their inhalation and exhalation while following a specific sequence of breathing and holding of breath. Many people use pranayama not only as a part of yoga, but as an independent practice as well. Renewing and enhancing the connection between your mind and body is the main aim of this technique.
Pranayama has a healing effect on your mind and body. Below you can see a quite impressive list of pranayama benefits for your health:
1. Promotes healthy and high quality sleep
Many people underestimate the importance of healthy sleep, and unfortunately this is a big mistake on their part. Necessary amounts of high quality sleep support growth and development in children and teens, as well as healthy functioning of the brain. It’s also necessary for the maintenance of your physical health. Pranayama may be quite useful for improving your quality of sleep (9).
According to a study, Bhramari pranayama, one of the pranayama techniques, works to slow down the heart rate and breathing within 5 minutes of practicing. This is a nice option for calming down your body before bedtime (5). Another research study has shown that it can improve the quality of sleep in people who suffer from a sleep disorder, known as obstructive sleep apnea (3). People who have this disorder repeatedly stop and start breathing during the sleep (8). This technique also helps to decrease sleepiness during the day and manage snoring.
2. Boosts your daily mindfulness
As a rule, people don’t pay attention to breathing, most likely because the process happens autonomously and automatically. The idea of pranayama as a yoga component, however, is to focus on the present moment. This experience of one’s mind is known as mindfulness. According to a recent study, people who practice this technique show the signs of significantly better developed mindfulness than those who don’t neglect to practice pranayama (6).
3. Helps to lower stress levels
As was mentioned above, there are harmful effects of stress to one’s body. According to a research study, pranayama is an efficient method for stress relief. The authors of the study suggest that such an effect is achieved due to the process of pranayama to calm down the nervous system (2).
4. Improves work of your body systems
Pranayama is a breathing technique and as a breathing technique, it is a nice exercise for your lungs. According to a recent study, pranayama can significantly improve the function of one’s lungs. This technique can be especially useful for those people with allergic bronchitis and asthma. It can be additionally helpful for people who need recovery therapy after such serious lung conditions as tuberculosis and pneumonia (13).
Pranayama is also supportive of the digestive system. The belly breathing required in this technique activates your diaphragm. This is a muscle that is located below your lungs and above your internal organs. When you practice pranayama, the movement of the diaphragm provides your digestive organs with a gentle massage. This technique offers benefits for your immune system as well. The work of your diaphragm also moves the lymph – which contains white blood cells – around your body. White blood cells are primarily working to help protect your body against foreign invaders and diseases. By practicing pranayama on a regular basis you can strengthen your immune system and protect yourself from the development of various medical conditions.
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5. Can help you to quit smoking
It is a well-known fact that smoking has a devastating effect on the body. It harms your blood circulation and heart health, increases your risk of stroke and heart disease. This habit badly affects the lungs, causing asthma, cough, lung cancer and more. Stained teeth, bad breath, a damaged or diminished sense of taste, faster aging of skin, cellulite, weak bones – most smokers experience all these issues. Nicotine is extremely addictive, and as a rule most people find it rather hard to quit smoking.
A study has shown that short sessions of yogic breathing can reduce cigarette cravings and in this way help to fight a smoking habit (1). According to another study, breathing practices in yoga can also help to soften the effects from smoking abstinence and decrease the urges that lead to various smoking behaviors (11, 12).
6. Normalizes your mood and helps to maintain balance
In this case pranayama can provide you with an almost immediate effect. If you need to boost your mood and energy or find harmony through the relaxation of your nervous system, try this breathing technique. If practiced regularly it can also help to get rid of bouts of insomnia, depression, as well as improve your concentration and more.
How to practice pranayama?
Taking into account all the above listed pranayama health benefits, you should definitely give this technique a try. It does have different styles, and so you can choose the one that will be the most suitable and effective for you. Below you can see a quite popular outline for pranayama breathing.
Alternate nostril breathing (or Nadhi sodhana)
You can practice it either in sitting or lying down position – choose which will be more comfortable for you. First, you should block your right nostril with your right thumb (if you are a left-handed, it’s ok to use your left thumb). Now inhale as much as you can through your left nostril. It is critical to inhale not as though into your chest but rather into your belly. Close your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand. Release the right one and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your right nostril, while keeping the left one closed. Repeat – block the right nostril again with your thumb, release the left one and exhale. In this way you return to the starting position.
Start by repeating the cycle ten times and gradually increase this amount. Make sure to breathe slowly and deeply. When you get used to this exercise you can hold your breath for a moment after each exhale and each inhale. Don’t hurry and take your time until your body gets used to the new practice (4).
Some recommendations for your comfort and success
Of course, you can practice pranayama wherever and whenever it is comfortable for you. But there are some recommendations that could improve your results. For instance, the place that you choose for your practice should be clean and ventilated. You can air the room – fresh air will be beneficial for you. Make sure that nothing distracts or bothers you. The best times for your practice are in the morning and in the evening. These times are a nice way to prepare yourself for a long working day and then to relax before going to bed. Pranayama doesn’t take much time – 15 minutes a day can be enough. You will want to make sure to practice daily, at the same place and time. This also should be done on an empty stomach. You can practice before breakfast and at other times at least four hours after eating any snack or meal.
In conclusion, as you can see this breathing technique is not only a crucial part of yoga and meditation. It is also a powerful tool for use against a number of health issues. By practicing pranayama on a regular basis you can not only reduce stress, but also strengthen your body as well. You can use pranayama as a component of your yoga training or as an independent routine. It is even possible to practice this miracle breathing technique as an addition to your regular training sessions. Pranayama is also a nice way to start your day and set it up to be calm and harmonic. Now you know about pranayama benefits!
Together with a healthy eating pattern, regular workouts, necessary amounts of healthy sleep and proper hydration, it could be the basis of your healthy life. If you are new to the world of yoga, meditation and special breathing techniques, it would be better to consult a professional before you begin.
Do you know that your body needs some exercise in addition to meditation? Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 7 Science-Backed Benefits of Pranayama (2020, healthline.com)
- Effect of fast and slow pranayama on perceived stress and cardiovascular parameters in young health-care students (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of oropharyngeal exercises and Pranayama on snoring, daytime sleepiness and quality of sleep in patients with moderate obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (2019, erj.ersjournals.com)
- How to Do Pranayama Breathing in Yoga (2015, yogaoutlet.com)
- Immediate Effect of a Slow Pace Breathing Exercise Bhramari Pranayama on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Investigation of Yoga Pranayama and Vedic Mathematics on Mindfulness, Aggression and Emotion Regulation (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Maintaining a regular yoga practice can provide physical and mental health benefits (n.d., osteopathic.org)
- Obstructive sleep apnea (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency (n.d., nhlbi.nih.gov)
- Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior (2019, mayoclinic.org)
- The acute effects of yogic exercises on craving and withdrawal symptoms in abstaining smokers (2012, link.springer.com)
- The effects of mindfulness-based yogic breathing on craving, affect, and smoking behavior (2020, psycnet.apa.org)
- The Short Term Effect of Pranayama on the Lung Parameters (2012, jcdr.net)
- Yoga – Benefits Beyond the Mat (2015, health.harvard.edu)