By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 250
Most of us take the ability to breathe freely for granted, but for many people the basic task of taking in air is painful due to respiratory ailments. Those suffering from problems of this nature may find themselves wishing that there was some way to exercise and care for the lungs. Fortunately, there is. A special branch of yoga called Pranayama does for the lungs what Hatha Yoga does for the body.
In Yogic teachings, breath is considered extremely important. The word Pranayama is a compound word. Prana means life force, and vital energy; it’s the breath of life. Ayama means to control, restrain or hold. Pranayama could be translated as simply breath control, but there are a lot of subtle nuances in the word that are lost with such a simplified definition. However, for our purposes here, breath control is a close enough definition. Pranayama has the potential to teach people how to control their breath.
Why would people need to learn how to breathe? Isn’t this basically automatic? Most people in the modern world take extremely shallow breaths. The result is that their lungs are never used to the fullest, and their lungs suffer as a result. Only filling a small portion of the lungs diminishes the body’s ability to expel toxins during the exhalation of the air from the lungs, and over time this likely leads to many of the chronic respiratory ailments we see in the world today. The reason for the fast, shallow breathing is unknown, though some experts speculate that it’s due to our clothing choices and the fact that a full breath would expand the stomach. Poor posture makes it difficult to draw in long, deep breaths, and this is likely another contributing factor.
Add to that the fact that the majority of people lead a largely sedentary lifestyle and spend the majority of their time indoors, where the air quality is often many times worse than the air outside, and you have a recipe for all kinds of breathing ailments.
Pranayama should always be performed in a well ventilated area and should be done under the supervision of a qualified Yoga teacher. A good yoga insrtuctor will be able to spot and correct any improper techniques quickly, leading to greater success in a shorter period of time. Even more so than the asanas, Pranayama requires a slow and steady pace. This is especially true for those coming to the practice in response to a respiratory ailment. Less is more.
Within Yoga, there are several different styles of Pranayama, and some are more suitable for beginners than others. It’s extremely important for the yoga teacher to be aware of any underlying health conditions prior to Pranayama instruction. For example, those with heart problems or high blood pressure shouldn’t do certain types of Pranayama at all. Many people wouldn’t think that breathing exercises could have such a profound impact on the body as a whole, but they can. Breath is powerful.
By practicing Pranayama, one learns how to breathe in a way that utilizes the whole lung, and this lesson will eventually carry over to automatic breathing. Taking larger breaths means taking fewer breaths per minute, with each inhale and exhale clearing the body of toxins and oxygenating the cells. This increased lung capacity, improved awareness, and control of the breath, can be a major benefit for those suffering with respiratory ailments.
© Copyright 2011 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division