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Prana what?

My boyfriend thought I was talking about some new motorcycle when I tried explaining what Pranayama is and what it can do for you – or more precisely what your breath can do for you. I had just watched one of Pilgrimage of the Heart’s Yoga videos on their online studio called “Pranayama energizing flow – 10 minutes with Lauren McLaren” and I couldn’t believe the different ways someone could breathe and even more importantly the enormous benefits that could be attained in just a few minutes. According to my boyfriend, “a breath is a breath” and he couldn’t understand how I could be so excited about something you don’t have to do anything about. But that’s the whole point. You CAN do something about your breath and it will improve your health!

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the life force”. The word is comprised of two Sanskrit words, Prana or life force (breath) and ayama meaning to extend or draw out. In the video the instructor focuses on two breathing techniques designed to expand the life forces we already possess. It also highlights the importance of doing these exercises properly and with a split screen gives the viewer a great means of how to do just that. The first technique is called Kapalabhati breath – Kapal means skull and bhati means polishing or shining. Kapalabhati, as the name suggests, is a method to make the head “sparkling clean” and devoid of toxins. On first glance, it sort of looks like you’re panting like a dog on a hot day, but you quickly build up an energy that moves through your limbs and your whole system. The other technique is called Nadi Shodan Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing. This is where you block one nostril at a time while breathing in and out. The video lays out very clearly how to hold your fingers and how to properly breathe using this technique.

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Benefits of Pranayama

While the ultimate goal of Pranayama is to enter higher states of consciousness, there are many immediate benefits. When we can control our breath we can keep our physical body healthy through the intake of oxygen and we can help affect our emotional and spiritual state through the meditative practice of breathing. These breathing exercises also help in calming and centering the mind, which brings the mind back to the present moment. Through this practice we can also release accumulated stress toxins and that in turn brings clarity to our mind and energy into our body. And all of these benefits come with just a few minutes of practice! The other underlying benefit of Pranayama (and this video) is that it brings attention to your breath, which a lot of us (including my boyfriend) don’t even think about. As an athlete, I’ve always sort of noticed that there are times in intense situations when I stop breathing and now I will not only be more aware of my breath, but also have options for improving my breath and my health.

Application: Pranayama in everyday life

Pranayama can easily be applied in everyday life because you don’t need a yoga mat or props to do it. Everything you need you already carry with you – your nose, your lungs and your fingers. Once you learn the techniques you can practice anywhere, anytime – waiting in a long line, on a break from work or even riding on the back of a motorcycle where the driver can’t see you 😉 My boyfriend is cool, but I disagree with his assessment that “a breath is a breath”. I mean really, are all motorcycles the same? Pranayama shows us that not only can you breathe in different ways, but there are enormous benefits in doing so.