Just breath. It’s simple advice but something you need to take more into consideration if you want to manage stress and feel your best.
Pranayama is an ancient form of specialized breathing that can have amazing health benefits. This article will give you a good understanding of the importance of breathing and pranayama techniques you can do to find more peace and balance.
What Is Pranayama?
Pranayama is all about breath control and being able to control it so you can achieve different results. The name comes from ancient Sanskrit with prana meaning “life force” (specifically the breath) and Yama which means to restrain or control the prana.
In the ancient world, this concept was thought of as the “vital air“. They understood the breath to be the most subtle material form and that it is also present in the blood. Pranayama techniques have connections to Hinduism and traditional yoga.
It also has connections to Buddhism as the Buddha would incorporate meditative breathing techniques to help find enlightenment. We’ll get to the pranayama techniques but first, it’s important to look at this issue of deep breathing and what benefits come from it.
The Importance Of Breathing
Most people are shallow breathers meaning they are not getting that deep inhalation that expands the belly and brings oxygen deeply into the body. Many people breathe short little breaths that tend to not go into the lungs and this may prevent them from being as healthy as possible.
With shallow breathing, you can get less oxygen to the blood and this makes it hard to combat things like stress and anxiety. You may also raise your stress hormone levels as your body isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs to its organs.
You may remember always hearing gym teachers telling you to “breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth” and this is a helpful reminder.
When you breathe through your mouth too much, it can be a signal to the body you’re struggling for oxygen as breathing should be through the nose.
When it’s through the mouth, this can elevate your stress hormones as your body doesn’t know if you are in peril or have to face some external threat. Martial artists, athletes, and MMA fighters work on this specific breathing through the nose to keep their bodies calm during competition.
Combatants will train themselves to breathe deeply in through the nose and expel sharply out of the mouth during combat or engagement. When they are walking around in-between moments of combat, they will focus on breathing in and out through the nose slowly. This keeps the stress hormones down and allows the body to relax and prepare.
It’s a good tip for whenever you find yourself in stressful situations whether they be physical or mental. Remember to breathe slowly in through the nose. You may notice in moments like this that you hold your breath without realizing and you need to always remind yourself to breathe.
When I write I tend to hold my breath, especially when I’m focused, and I realize I’m doing it right now. I have to constantly remind myself to breathe deeply and make it slow and controlled. But I’ve become better at recognizing this.
What Are The Benefits That Come From Pranayama Techniques?
Most of the benefits will come from controlling stress. Stress can lead to a lot of nasty conditions in the body as constantly elevated cortisol can lead to a lot of chronic inflammation. Inflammation can be seen to be at the route of a majority of illnesses and conditions. You will never eliminate all stress but you can learn to control it.
A big thing to remember is it doesn’t matter if stress is real or perceived, your body responds in the same way.
When you learn pranayama breathing techniques it can help with:
- Improving autonomic functions
- Can relieve symptoms of asthma
- Reducing oxidative stress in the body
- Creating a steady mind and stronger will power
- Improving your life expectancy and mental outlook
- Lowering blood pressure
- Losing weight
That last one may seem weird but it comes back to controlling stress. When your cortisol levels are elevated this can cause weight loss to come to a screeching halt. When cortisol levels are high weight loss is the last thing your body wants. Your metabolism will drop when stress hormones go up as your body thinks it’s facing a trauma.
Your body doesn’t know it’s living in a modern era with everything at its fingertips, it imagines stress can be from drought or famine, environmental trauma or other external threats. It doesn’t know if it will be fed soon so it wants to preserve everything it has, specifically body fat.
Your body fat is a backup energy source and is needed during times of threat. As long as stress hormones are high losing weight will be difficult.
How Do You Do Pranayama?
Pranayama breathing techniques get more advanced than the regular “in through the nose, out through the mouth” concept and it helps you to recreate a sense of happiness at any moment. Your thoughts control your breathing and when you are happy your breathing is steady and controlled.
When you are stressed, however, your breathing becomes irregular, shallow, and interrupted. When you can master the art of breathing it can put you into a calm state in any situation. Here are 4 pranayama techniques
1. Being Aware of Your Own Breath
This is where you want to start if this concept is new to you. When I mentioned earlier about most people being shallow breathers, or holding your breath while stressed, you need to train yourself to breathe. You need to pay attention to what makes your breathing speed up and to recognize those signals in your body.
Make it a point to slow your breathing down by taking those deep inhalations through your nose. Imagine you’re filling your stomach up with air and slowly release it. This is the first step to improving your breathing techniques.
2. Victorious or Ocean Breath Technique
They use this in yoga and it’s also called Ujjayi Pranayama. This is done to help enhance the relaxation response of your slower breathing. It’s called ocean breath not because you’ve eaten too much tuna. 🙂 It’s actually meant to mimic the sound of soothing ocean waves. To do it, you breathe in slowly through the nose. Then, open your mouth and exhale slowly out but make an “HA” sound.
This is not a laugh at my hilarious tuna joke but the noise you’d make when fogging up glasses lenses to clean to them. You then want to keep the back of your throat closed (as it is when making the HA sound) while you inhale again through the nose.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This is alternating breathing between your left and right nostril and can also be called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. It helps to unblock and purify your “nadis“, which is the energy passage into your body that carries the life force. To do it, you would have your fist in front of your face and close your right nostril with your thumb.
Inhale through your left nostril then close it with the ring finger of your hand. You then open your right nostril back up and exhale out. Then you inhale through the right nostril, close it, and exhale through the left. That’s once cycle and you can do it 3-5 times.
4. Breath Retention
This is about holding the breath in called Kumbhaka Pranayama. You will inhale and inflate your lungs as much as possible and hold for ten seconds. When ten seconds is up, you will try to inhale a little bit more. Then, hold it as long as you can then slowly exhale.
This will help oxygenate your blood more that is going to the heart, lungs, and muscles. If this is difficult, try holding for three seconds. This is deeper breathing that wouldn’t be good for those who are pregnant or have any heart conditions.
Final Thoughts On Pranayama Techniques
Hopefully, you will come away from this being more aware of your breathing. You may not have thought about it much before. But you can see how important it is for combating stress and keeping you relaxed. If this is all new to you, start with just being aware of your breathing and how you react in different situations.
As you become more in tune with it you can move up to more advanced pranayama techniques.
Are there any other of these techniques you like to use? Please share it below!