The Scientific and Spiritual Benefits of Pranayama

The Scientific and Spiritual Benefits of Pranayama

Yoga & Meditation

As I sit down to write this article, a wave of “to do’s” enters my brain. I am filled with a checklist of things needing completion, making it hard to be in the present moment.

So, I STOP and BREATHE, using the 4-7-8 technique. Most people use this right before bedtime, but it helps me when I have a lot of “to do’s” swirling around in my head. I breathe in for a count of 4, hold my breath for a count of 7, and exhale for a count of 8. This technique is derived from Pranayama or yogic breathing. It helps me come back to the here and now. I repeat this twice and instantly feel more present to the words showing up on my screen.

My mind becomes clearer. I am ready to share my knowledge of Pranayama, the science behind it, and the spiritual benefits. Now don’t let that word “spiritual” deter you from the article.

Let’s take the word spiritual and relate it to mindfulness — you know that sense of calm you get when you are challenged but able to navigate through it. That deeper connection to yourself and your emotions. It’s like tapping into higher consciousness. Let that be your definition of spiritual. 

Are you ready to dive in? Before we start, STOP and BREATHE.  Breathe into your low belly and observe it expand. Inhale into the sides of your waist, allowing it to flow up into your heart. HOLD it at the top. Now exhale the breath back and down. Enjoy. 

You just experienced a Pranayama technique called 3-part-breath; it’s that simple. Notice how more open you are to reading this article and clearer your mind is. Prana is a Sanskrit word meaning life force, and in this sense, breath. Yama is a Sanskrit word meaning reigning in or control.

The two words combine to mean breath control. BKS Iyengar once said, “Breath is the king of the mind.” Knowing this, imagine how applying Yama or control of your Prana/breath, benefits YOUR mind. I could mic drop right there, but let’s continue our exploration.

The Science Behind Pranayama

Your mind regulates so much in your body, including your health. If we can find a way to reign in our mind by using our breath, our physical health is directly affected. Below are a few scientifically proven areas of benefit when pranayama is used: 

How does it benefit so many different areas of our body? Let’s keep it simple.

Quality of Sleep: Focusing on your breath increases oxygen to your brain. When you are unable to fall asleep, it’s usually due to a reaction of your brain overworking or stress keeping you up. Practicing pranayama before you go to bed allows you to transfer your focus from the day to the breath. It gives your mind a much-needed break from everything executed throughout the day and permission to relax. If the breath can calm and relax you before bed, it can certainly play a role when you experience daily stressors.

Reducing Stress:  Connecting to your breath stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, that calm place in your mind. Taking a moment to breathe takes your mind off your stressors and into the present moment. As the brain reduces stress and oxygenates your nerves, your overall brain function directly benefits.

Overall Brain Function: Scientific studies have proven when you focus on the breath you can tap into mindfulness. This alleviates a fight/flight/flee response and supports making executive decisions. Continuing this process over time increases how your brain functions. It’s as if your brain is getting love notes from your breath throughout the day rather than chain letters from stressors in your body. Which one would you want it to receive? The love note, right?! Pranayama is a love note to your brain. 

Lung Capacity: When you think about breathing, you tend to think about two areas of your body– your nose and mouth. But do you ever consider your lungs? As you focus on your breathing the lungs are getting a workout. Imagine them like your bicep. The more curls you do with your weights, the stronger it gets. The same goes for the lungs. As the lung capacity increases, it reduces upper respiratory complications. 

Stop and breathe! Let’s explore the Pranayama technique from earlier in this article. Breathe into your low belly and observe it expand. Inhale into the sides of your waist, allowing it to flow up into your heart. HOLD it at the top. Now, exhale the breath back and down. Repeat that for a few more rounds of breath.

Pranayama Techniques

That breathing technique is 1 of 8 Pranayama techniques called Dirga or Three-Part-Breath. Each breathing practice has three elements–inhalation, retention, and exhalation. It is recommended that these breathing techniques are done seated upright in a comfortable position. We could go down the rabbit hole of each breathing technique, but then you may lose your attention or your mind gets carried off into your own to-do-list. You can explore them below when it’s best for you. 

  1. Dirga or Three-Part-Breath
  2. Ujayyi or Ocean Breath (you have probably heard this in a yoga class)
  3. Nadi Sodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing
  4. Shitali or Cooling Breath
  5. Bhramari or Bee Breath
  6. Bhastrika or Bellows Breath
  7. Viloma or Wave Breath
  8. Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire

Pranayama and Spirituality or Mindfulness

You are probably eager to start a pranayama practice now that you understand how it impacts your body scientifically. You may have already googled a few of the techniques listed above. But it’s important to take another moment to STOP AND BREATHE as we venture into spirituality or mindfulness. 

Pranayama helps navigate life’s moments of unease, building a bridge between the mind, body, and breath to create harmony. It’s not always easy to take a moment to breathe as our world is full of movement and action.

As you read this article, there are strategically placed little breath reminders for you. Take a moment to reflect on how those little reminders made you feel. What ideas come to mind? Were you able to sense peace or tranquility? This year has taught us the importance of self-care as we spent so much time at home confronting ourselves. It held up a mirror to show you what is truly important and what we truly need.

Pranayama is able to let you connect to your higher Self. The more you experience these moments, the easier they are to tap into when life’s challenges come. It purifies our soul. 

Sabrina Zellis
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