Pranayama is yogic techniques and exercises (usually in the form of breathing exercises) aimed at extending one’s life force (also known as “chi” or “ki”). Pranayama is one of the five yogic techniques alongside kriyas (cleansing techniques), asanas (postures), mudras (gestures aimed at directing energy), and banhdas (locks aimed at directing and conserving energy in the spinal cord).
In Hatha Yoga tradition it is believed that, firstly, body needs to be cleansed through the performance of kriyas, then energized by performing asanas, then the energy needs to be redirected inwards through the practice of pranayama (otherwise it is thought that the energy will dissipate outside the body), and preserved and “locked” inside via the practice of mudras and bandhas. These five practices form a complete Hatha Yoga practice.
The main aim of pranayama exercises is to extend one’s life force, as well as re-direct one’s energy inwards after the performance of asanas, and purify nadis – the energy channels in the body (there are around 72,000 nadis in the body).
Even though spiritual benefits of pranayama techniques could be difficult to measure, its physical and some psychological benefits can be measured. Studies show that pranayama can help with:
- activating parasympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for relaxation and decreased heart rate)
- inducing theta brain activity (the one that is also activated during meditation)
- helping people with diabetes
- aiding people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- helping oxidative stress of athletes
- aiding women in preterm labor
You can find the links to the studies and read more about pranayama’s health benefits in this article where I took this information from.
Never tried pranayama but would like to see if it works for you? Join us for our Traditional Himlayan Style Yoga! In our classes, we focus on the traditional Hatha Yoga, combining asanas with pranayamas, mudras, bandhas, and kriyas for a holistic approach and all-around yoga practice.
You can find the timetable for our upcoming classes here.