Pranayama, or breath practice, is a powerful tool with many benefits that is often overlooked in westernised yoga practice. The breath is a bridge between body and mind, and between the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. You don’t have to remind yourself to blink, salivate, dilate or constrict your pupils, keep your heart beating, or breathe, it just happens…it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system and adjusted according to which life situation (stressful or relaxing) you are facing. Yet, the breath can also be controlled by your will. By changing your breath pattern, you can affect the body and mind. At the end of this post, find a 25-Minute guided Pranayama practice for a calm mind.
USE PRANAYAMA TO CALM THE MIND
The autonomic nervous system is always active, either in a sympathetic or parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic mode is activated during a ”fight or flight” situation, when mental stress or physical danger is present. On the flip side, the parasympathetic mode is activated during times of reduced stress, and allows the body to ”rest and digest”.
Our breath changes depending on which part of the autonomic nervous system is active. And, vice versa, we can also affect the autonomic nervous system by changing our breath pattern. Changing the pace and length of inhalation and exhalation and adjusting the pauses between the two, can help calm stress-related disorders, and increase our focus.
Some breath techniques are calming, while others are stimulating. The ancient yogis learned this by intuition and experimentation. They called this practice Pranayama (”techniques to extend our life force”), and Patanjali included it as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
BENEFITS OF PRANAYAMA
According to yogic belief, Prana (universal vital energy) is the driving force of the universe and all bodily functions. Blockages of this flow is said to cause illness, and being able to balance the flow can give us the power to balance and heal the body. Pranayama is the primary yoga technique to adjust the flow of Prana.
Modern science is just catching up to the understandings of how using the breath can help calm the mind in a world of constant impressions. Some of the additional benefits of Pranayama include:
- Decrease stress
- Improve sleep quality
- Increase mindfulness
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Improve lung function
- Enhance cognitive performance
- Reduce addictive cravings, particularly related to smoking
If you haven’t practiced Pranayama before, find a teacher to guide you! Join Yandara founder, Christopher Perkins, in the video below for a calming 25-Minute Pranayama practice.
We teach basic Pranayama techniques in all our 200hr teacher training programs, and in the 300hr advanced program we go deeper into the breath. We also offer an advanced 100hr module called Breath & Meditation a few times a year in Baja and Sweden.
Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer