Breathing – an autonomic function that we take for granted, at least until we get an upper respiratory infection and can’t breathe easily any more. But, breathing during exercise is a learned skill. At least, breathing correctly during exercise must be learned. Yoga is no different. Those who are not initiated to yoga may underestimate the power and benefits of the exercise, and they probably underestimate the regenerative benefits of Pranayama, as well.
Pranayama is a combination of two words: “Prana”, which is the life force, vital energy, or more specifically the breath, and “ayama” which means to “draw out or extend”. Many people make the mistake of thinking the second word is “yama”, which means to “restrain or control”, but that is contrary to the true function of the exercise. The practice is a part of Hinduism.
The purposes of Pranayama are many. The beginning levels allow the amateur practitioner of yoga to begin to center himself and become aware of his own balance. Hatha yocig Pranayama changes the consciousness and enables the beginner to begin controlling the chitta-vrittis. Advanced students move on to raja yogic Pranayama, which allows them to control the chitta-vrittis completely and consciously.
While to the uninitiated, this may seem like an awful lot of attention to a simple autonomic function, there are actual medical benefits to Pranayama. One of the benefits is the reduction of stress.
Stress comes from many different sources. It can be physical, psychological, or cultural, and can interfere with the smooth functioning of our bodies and minds. Medical studies have shown that Pranayama allow a person to release stress of all kinds, creating a healthier physiological and psychological response to stressors in the person’s life.
Another benefit of Pranayama is that it can improve your autonomic functions. This is partly to do with the reduction of stress and the exercise involved in yoga, and partly to do with the practitioner’s ability to become aware of his body’s internal functions and achieve a balance. This lowers the heart rate, relaxes the body and lowers blood pressure, and promotes better circulation and oxygenation of the body.
Oxidative stress is the buildup of toxins in the body that react to oxygen which the body must have to stay alive. As this reaction occurs, it causes free radicals to abound, which cause cancer. Peroxides are also formed. The free radicals and peroxide attack the body’s cells, injuring proteins and lipids, and even affecting your DNA. Oxidative stress can interfere with your cells’ communications mechanisms, causing autoimmune diseases and cancer. It can also make other illnesses worse, including Sickle Cell, Schizophrenia, autism, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Medical signals that indicate the presence of oxidative stress have been shown to decrease with the practice of Pranayama.
Finally, some studies have shown that Pranayama can actually relieve the symptoms of asthma. The benefits of the breathing control have given many asthma sufferers relieve from this often life-threatening disease.
About the Author: Laura Green is in the business of helping others. Having been in the fitness and health industry for many years she is always looking to find new ways keep healthy. When she doesn’t moonlight as a writer you can find Laura working for Yeotown, a company that provides a new age weight loss boot camp experience in Devon, UK.