It was an honor and pleasure to be featured on Dharma Warrior TV to present “The Power of Pranayama” as part of the series “Yoga: Life Transformation Beyond Fitness”. For thousands of years, yogis have harnessed and manipulated vital life forces through breath control. Learn about the benefits of pranayama and breath techniques to take back control over your physiology, mind and subtle body.
Prana is defined as breath or life force. Ayama means extension or expansion. Pranayama is a yogic practice that systematically and consciously controls the breath to reach a specific goal or state of mind. A human takes about 15 breaths per minute and 21,600 times a day, usually unconsciously. Yet there are two modes of breathing: Metabolic and Behavioral. Metabolic breathing is involuntary breathing based on metabolic demand. Whereas behavioral respirations are intentionally manipulated. That being said, let’s start by looking at the plethora of benefits of mindful breath work in general.
• Promotes proper flow of prana
• Connects mind and body
• Induces focus, concentration, calmness and meditative states
• Reduces the effect harmful emotions
• Reprograms neural pathways linked to breath – emotional patterns
• Deactivates stress responses from the sympathetic system
• Balances doshas
• Eliminates respiratory toxins
• Improves tidal volume and spirometry
• Normalizes blood pressure and heart rate
• Balances hormones and neurotransmitters
• Balances metabolism
• Enhances agni
• Reduces perception of pain
For all you science nerds, you may already know the physiology of basic metabolic breathing, but let’s do a quick review for a deeper understanding. Breathing is controlled by the brainstem. Sympatho-excitatory neurons in the brainstem are oxygen sensors and are regulated by blood oxygen levels. Chemoreceptors in the aorta and carotid arteries monitor blood oxygen concentrations and provide feedback. Low oxygen levels trigger deeper breaths. Chemoreceptors and the brainstem monitor carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in blood and CSF. High CO2 levels trigger deeper breaths.
Now, with that being said, let us look at how that reflects upon the nervous system. Remember that the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for “fight or flight” reactions and the parasympathetic nervous system promotes the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” sides of life.
When a person encounters stress, real or only perceived, the sympathetic nervous system provides rapid mobilization of energy to respond to situations and activities. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are cranked out, resulting in vasoconstriction, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate and elevated blood pressure. In addition, blood flow is shunted away from the digestive track toward muscles for a fast fight or flight response. Oh, and don’t forget, the adrenals secrete cortisol and that’s not something you want on a chronic basis.
Earlier I eluded to “real or perceived stress”. The brainstem translates incoming emotional data and responds in turn, whether it is truly happening or just a mental crap storm. Much of the data that triggers the nervous system is based on how you breathe. So let’s peek at some breathing patterns.
• Anger – long forced breaths, like a bull about to charge.
• Panic – short, fast, shallow breaths, like hyperventilation.
• Pain – shallow and held breaths, like OMG, don’t move.
• Sad – shallow, slow, more frequent sighs, like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
• Calm and happy – longer slow steady inhales and exhales.
Many breath patterns are driven by the subconsciousness and old looping emotional patterns, but pranayama can completely revolutionize this phenomenon. There are nearly 50 different styles of pranayama, each with different benefits and aims. I’m going to discuss two of the most common and
safest breath modifications. Note that not all pranayamas are safe for everybody. When done wrong or an inappropriate method is chosen, it can result in the air hunger, seizure, overheating, syncope (fainting), cardiovascular instability, stroke or death…. just to name a few risks. I’m going to cover Ujjai pranayama and Nadi Shodhana pranayama, which are typically safe for anybody, so let’s check them out… READ FULL ARTICLE HERE AT DHARMA WARRIOR.