Updated: Sep 18
Pranayama starts a process whereby the molecules of energy, prana, and the mental processes which interact with each other so that the body can experience life and consciousness gets transformed. This transformation is positive, and brings to the surface the hitherto hidden feelings of compassion, love and the feeling of unity with everything around. The physical body is matter which can be transformed into energy as the basic fundamental units forming both - atoms- are the similar.
The body can be transformed by yoga, more precisely Hatha yoga ( the physical training system), because Hathya yoga cleanses the body of all impurities and blockages leaving it pure and subtle. Pranayama is a tool to unite the individual self ( spirit, soul) to the cosmic self, or the universal spirit, soul. This change can happen when the prana, or the cosmic energy present within is regulated ( ayama means regulation or control) by practicing pranayama. A regular and consistent practice of pranayama leaves the practitioner spellbound owing to the percolation of the benefits of pranayama in his overall being and existence.
The transformation begins with the obvious changes happening in the structure, smell, and the quality of the skin. The practitioner remains infused with positivity, the senses remain subdued and the urge for everything external gets diminished. Practicing pranayama removes all impurities from all the five bodies of the practitioner, the mind as it means in yoga and the thoughts gain strength. The minor provocations to which the practitioner used to easily fall prey to earlier loose their significance. In order to extract the maximum benefits from practicing pranayamas one must be aware of the basic requirements for yoga breathing exercises.
Overflowing Vital Energy - Benefits of Pranayama
One of the benefits of pranayama is that it flushes the body systems with fresh vital energy, the prana. In usual course an individual ingests the energy for keeping the body alive via the food one eats and the air one breathes, this energy is subject to depletion on consumption, which in turn demands refueling. The vital energy is in fact all pervasive, it is present in each element comprising the universe along with pervading the space in between these elements, its also known as cosmic energy. Ideally their is an unhindered flow of this cosmic energy, prana, within the individual from the cosmos around him up till the connection between the two stays intact. Presence of Ego, severs this connection between the two, pranayama, yoga breathing exercises help connect the individual back to the universal source of prana.
This enhances persistent awareness, dynamism and vitality of the practitioner. The main purpose of pranayama is to stoke the internal powerhouse of energy within the being; the prana. The science behind this is very simple; pranayama creates static electricity inside the body which recharges the positive ions inhaled, while performing yoga breathing exercises, and convert them into negative ions. Similar process ensues when rain drops fall after a hot and sultry weather, rain charges up the positive ions in the air and convert them to negative ions. This makes one feel energetic and buoyant.
Physical Benefits of Pranayamas
Pranayamas were originally discovered to help unite the individual spirit with the universal spirit, and not for treating some malady afflicting the human body. The therapeutic aspect of pranayamas is just a incidental by-product of this process, practicing yoga breathing exercises regularly have shown enumerable benefits for almost all the organ systems within the human body.
The deep, slow, and rhythmic breathing as done in pranayamas exercises the muscles of the lungs and the respiratory system as a whole. The chest expands open to its full capacity adding volume to the space within which the lungs can expand while inhaling, even the lungs get stretched to their maximum limits enhancing their elasticity, this strengthens the associated muscles which increases the over-all efficiency of the respiratory apparatus.
Contrary to normal perception, the amount of air inhaled during a normal inhalation ( 7000 cc per minute) is more than the amount inhaled while doing pranayama ( 3700 cc per minute), though in pranayama the oxygen present in the inhaled air gets more time to get absorbed in the bloodstream than it gets during normal respiration. Likewise the waste products from the blood get enough time to get diffused back into the lungs for their ultimate expulsion from the body, this leaves the blood with more oxygen and lesser toxins than what happens during normal inhalation and exhalation.
The muscles of the respiratory system ones trained for taking the breath the right way continue doing so through our the day even after the practice of pranayama has ended. The respiratory system works in the high efficiency mode throughout the day enriching the blood supply to all the organ systems with oxygen. The active movement of the muscles of the abdomen and the diaphragm while doing pranayamas provides good massage to almost all the internal organs related to the digestive system. This improves the processes of elimination, absorption and digestion.
All the muscles and nerves associated with the abdominal region get toned. Constipation gets eased out which maintains the healthy flow of the products of digestion within the alimentary canal, the cleared up internal lining of the intestines absorbs more of the nutrients than would have happened otherwise. For cardiac patients pranayamas are God sent, controlled and regulated inhalations and exhalations diffuse any stress on the cardiac system, providing the needed rest to the heart. Anuloma- Viloma pranayama benefits by exercising the whole cardiac system as no other pranayama can do. The ratio of 1:2 between an inhalation and a exhalation as maintained in this alternate breathing exercise perfectly correspond with the systolic and diastolic movements in the heart.
For a deranged heart this ratio is from anywhere between 2:1 to 5:1. Practising anuloma-viloma pranayama regularly trains the cardiac muscles to follow the healthy rhythm of 1:2 which maintains the health of the heart. Breathing with the ratio of 1:2 provides rest to the over worked muscles of the heart without reducing the supply of the blood to the brain and other body tissues. Exhaling for any longer than twice the duration of the inhalation will reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood supply which will signal the brain to increase the pulse rate in order to compensate for the same.
Pranayamas also massage the muscles of the heart which improves the blood circulation throughout the body. Pranayamas like Bhastrika and kapalbhati rejuvenate the entire network of arteries, veins and the tiniest of the capillaries as the vibrations emanating from their action awaken these circulatory highways out of their sluggishness, slumber. The benefits of pranayamas also get spilled over to the practice of meditation as they prepare the heart for remaining relaxed while the mind traverses the higher states of consciousness.
Pranayamas affect the practitioners behaviour, reactions and natural responses in a positive way by influencing the endocrine system. The secretions of the glands comprising the endocrine system gets harmonized and purified by practising pranayamas which in turn the thoughts positive along with uplifting the related behavior . The health of the endocrine system is dependent on the quality of the blood being supplied to the hormone secretion glands, pranayamas help enrich the blood supply with the nutrients and the oxygen by stimulating the digestive and respiratory systems respectively, this ensures ample supply of healthy blood to the glands affecting the quality of their secretions.
One of the best example of how the practice of pranayama helps in the development of a normal human being is their impact on the pineal gland ( situated in the area between the eyebrows). Health of the pineal gland is directly related to the balanced physical and emotional development of the adolescents. Pranayamas benefit by maintaining the proper functioning of the pineal glands which keeps the secretion of the hormones from the pituitary gland in check at puberty. Without this check the pituitary gland will over flood the body with hormones which develop emotions long before the physical maturity to handle the same sets in.
The nutrient, oxygen rich blood as facilitated by the yoga breathing exercises benefit the health of the brain, the spinal cord, along with the spinal nerves. Moreover during an prolonged inhalation ( puraka) the lower part of the vertebral column receives an upward pull enervating the tissues, cartilages and nerves present between the vertebrae. In case the pranayama is performed with Jalandhara bandha then the upper part of the back bone also receives an invigorating upward pull. These pulls help tone the roots of the spinal nerves along with giving a kick to the entire nervous system.
The benefits of pranayamas percolate to the nerve plexuses ( chakras) in case all the three bandhas are combined with the practice of pranayama, the impact of the intra-thoracic , intra-pulmonary, and intra-abdominal pressure so generated stimulates the nerve plexus situated in the region from the lower abdominal cavity to the throat. Fluctuations in the mood are a result of the absence of any rhythmic electrical interactions between the various regions of the brain, slow, deep breathing as initiated by the practice of yoga breathing methods restores the systematic interaction between the various centers of the brain. The fluctuations in the brain waves due to disharmonious firing from the neurons is settled as both the hemispheres of the brain are balanced out with yoga breathing exercises.
The pranayama benefits the patients of hypertension by inducing the longer alpha waves in the brain, and reducing the frequency of beta waves therein. The alpha brain waves are known for bringing harmony to the brain, coronary, respiratory and circulatory systems. Alternate nostril breathing when started from the left nostril ( mental energy) helps calm the mind and improve the concentration power of the practitioner. This eventually helps the mind to easily slip into the state of meditation. Patanjali has mentioned this in his yoga sutra on pranayama: the mind becomes fit for concentration by the practice of pranayama.
Pranayama removes the disturbing energies from the mind and the mind becomes like a flame in a still environment. The rajas and tamas qualities of the mind gets subdued which decreases the speed but enhances its power or strength. Thus the fluctuations of the mind get arrested and it can now focus as in dhyana or meditation. Reaching the state of meditation through pranayama is better as it keeps the mind dynamic and prevents it from sliding into hypnosis along with keeping it away from distractions for prolonged periods.
With the practice of yoga breathing exercises over a period of time one learns to have control on one's mind, this gives the practitioner some control over the involuntary processes inside the body. The pressure and the stimulation applied to the nervous system by the pranayama turns the consciousness inwards which makes the extra sensory experiences possible. Yoga breathing if practiced consistently for long has been found to bring changes to the nervous system at the physical level. It's like rewiring the entire nervous system for the better.
As the body and the mind are slowly overtaken by the influx of pure prana one begins to experience those planes of consciousness which had remained unknown up till then. Higher states of consciousness are more of a experiential aspects than which can be communicated as it is experienced through any known means. At this stage the practitioner of pranayama moves from the grosser to the sutler experiences even within one's own body which one was never aware of, one becomes capable of hearing hidden subtler sound frequencies within one's own body which yogis call as ananda nada. The mind gets tamed and calmer reducing the friction between it and the self as existed prior to reaching this state.
Another of the benefits of pranayama, as one of the many benefits of Hatha yoga, is that as the mind and the brain are rendered pure and subtler, with its practice the prana flows unhindered in their hitherto hidden areas which were covered under darkness and were impeding the intellectual growth of the bearer, pranayama practice illuminates these coves with enlightenment and the state of meditation comes to the practitioner by default.
Yogis with practice have found that regular practice of pranayama can change ones relationship with gravity. Gravity is attraction, or the force which pulls towards itself. Our nervous system and its state, quality is directly linked to gravity. Even the depth of our sleep, dreams and the thinking process has been found to be influenced by the force of gravity. Pranayama has the potential to dissipate this attraction of gravity leading to the feeling of weightlessness. The characteristics of the nervous system are different on the ground and are different when the body levitates above the ground, pranayama benefits by changing the characteristics of the nervous system to the state of levitation. This positively impacts the quality of sleep, and thinking process of the practitioner to a large extent.
Relationship to the gravity is also responsible for ingraining the longing for fixation and clinging to what appears to be agreeable to the mind like the desire to be alive forever. Appearance of dispassion for life and the things our mind loves to remain embroiled in (attachments) is another of the benefits of pranayamas. The fear of death, or abhinivesha is anyways a impediment in the path of spiritual growth of the aspirants as it is considered as one of the kleshas by Patanjali in his yoga sutras. At physical level the body of the regular practitioner of pranayama gets leaner, stronger, and healthier. The countenance stands apart in the crowd owing to the radiance gained through the practice of pranayamas. The voice becomes dulcet, the eyes begins sparkling and the appetite goes healthy and the body develops the ability to rejuvenate itself with lesser duration of sleep than earlier. The absorption of the nutrients from the ingested food reaches its optimal potential which in turn reduces the amount of excretory waste from the body.
Karma, or the impressions of the desires which had lead to certain actions in the past keeps the light of knowledge under cover, practicing pranayamas unveils this cover and illuminate the mind with the radiance of the right knowledge. This expunges the effects of the karma on one's personality and growth. All karma, whether acquired in the present or in the past lives gets burnt away by the regular practice of the pranayamas. Not only the bad karma, the yogi is rid of the impressions of the good karma as well as the benefits of pranayamas, so that the unburdened spirit can now easily rise to the highest planes of consciousness and ultimately unite with the universal soul. Regular practice of subtle pranayama helps raise the pranic energy ( lying latent in the base of the spine) up into the Sushumna Nadi to its union with the Sahasrara ( abode of Sada-Siva) in the scalp, facilitating this upward movement of prana energy ( kundilini) is the main focus for the practitioners of Kundilini yoga.
Follow the list of suggestions for intensifying the benefits of pranayamas which accrue from their consistent and regular practice. Also, pranayama practice needs a proper environment, like the ambience at our Yoga center at Shahzadpur near Chandigarh, to be able to infuse the expected benefits into human body.