Yoga, regardless of form, emphasizes the importance of proper breathing. Students practice what is known as pranayama, a Sanskrit term for breath control. According to yogic tradition, pranayama extends prana or life force energy, similar to the idea of qi in traditional Chinese medicine, enhances lung capacity, quiets the mind, rejuvenates the body, and increases longevity. The practice of breath control varies by yogic tradition, however, researchers have discovered profound health effects that stem from certain tried and true pranayama techniques.
- Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing): The Journal of Recent Research in Science and Technology published a study concerning the effects of nadi shodhana. The researchers asked students to perform a basic variation of this type of pranayama. Students sat in a comfortable seated position and closed off the right nostril with the right thumb. The students then inhaled and exhaled through the left nostril five times. They released and breathed through both nostrils for five rounds of breath. Students closed off the left nostril with the right ring and pinky finger and inhaled and exhaled through the right nostril five times.Following the warm-up students, closed their right nostrils with their thumbs and inhaled through the left nostril. Then, they closed the left nostril with the ring and pinky fingers and exhaled through the right nostril. They inhaled through the right nostril and when complete, closed off the right nostril and exhaled through the left. They repeated this cycle five times. The pranayama was practiced for 30 minutes per day for 45 days.
The researchers concluded that nadi shodhana improved the respiratory function in the students. The pranayama technique reduced activity in the sympathetic nervous system and enhanced pulmonary functions. In addition, students experienced increased emotional stability, mental clarity, and a sense of wellbeing.
Researchers found in another study, published in the Journal of Physical Education and Sports Management, that subjects who practiced nadi shodhana pranayama experienced a significant increase in vital capacity, a decline in basal heart rate, and lower systolic blood pressure. This evidence suggests that nadi shodhana can be a powerful tool for health and wellness by improving lung function, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and more.
- The Complete Breath: Sit in a comfortable seated position with the spine straight and the eyes closed to practice the complete breath. Inhale through the nose and expand the belly, continue to inhale allowing the breath to expand the ribcage, and finally inhale a little more to bring the breath to the top of the lungs. On the exhale, exhale from the top of the lungs, then the rib cage, and finally from the belly. Contract the belly at the end of the exhale. This slow, meditative form of pranayama retrains the body in proper diaphragmatic breathing, which many individuals underutilize.
Sarah Novotny and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico conducted a review of current scientific findings on slow, rhythmic pranayama, particularly the complete breath. Findings suggest that the complete breath has a positive impact on oxygen consumption and metabolism. It improves the function of the immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems, hypertension, imbalances in the autonomic nervous system, psychological and stress-related disorders, and asthma.
Pranayama quiets the sympathetic nervous system, which removes individuals from a frequent state of hyper-vigilance. The authors state, “Breath training includes the ability to sustain relaxed attention on the flow of breath, to refine and control respiratory movements for optimal breathing, and to integrate awareness and respiratory functioning in order to reduce stress and enhance psychological functioning.”
The power of pranayama shouldn’t be overlooked. Individuals can integrate deep breathing techniques into their daily lives and reap the host of benefits. Breathing well not only bolsters health, but also creates an overall sense of wellbeing. It begins with simply noticing your breath and then consciously trying to inhale and exhale smoothly and evenly. This simple tweak to your lifestyle will further all of your current efforts to maintain optimal health.
About the Author: Guest contributor, Colleen Gore, writes the “Healthy Diet Plans” section at www.dietplansweekly.com, a site devoted to healthy weight loss through nutritional meal plans and exercise. She is also a yoga teacher, freelance writer, and former weight loss consultant.