Pranayama, meaning prana (life energy) + ayam (regulation/ exercise) is a form of energy healing. Given that, in traditional medicine, breath is called prana or ‘life force’ and is seen to be part of the cosmic energy flow, it’s obvious that there is more to pranayama than simple breath control.
This perception of breath is also related to the Qi in oriental medicine and Japanese healing techniques. Breath was considered vital to the power of the individual and monks and martial arts practitioners gave a lot of important to the technique of breathing.
In the Indian system of yoga, watching the breath was considered the foundation, or the first step towards the development of the internal balance that leads to meditation. Pranayama was also considered the first step towards the internal balancing of the body’s energy flows, which in turn leads to the balancing of the chakras.
Pranayama has several health benefits, many of which have been studied by modern medicine. Several other studies are underway. Here are some details of what has been found.
When we breathe deeply, we bring more oxygen to the lungs, body organs and brain. The brain uses a lot of oxygen and is the first organ to suffer in a case of oxygen depletion. Better brain function improves concentration and the memory.
Deep breathing helps prevent several lung problems. We use only a portion of the lungs during normal breathing. This means some parts of the lungs remain under-utilised and vulnerable to infection. Deep breathing oxygenates all parts of the lungs, thus preventing anaerobic bacteria from growing.
The body functions thanks to many automatic systems including the autonomic nervous system. This allows the body to increase and decrease some functions in a balanced way, avoiding the over-stimulation or over-depression of any automatic function. The muscles of the heart are also managed by the autonomic nervous system. This allows the heart rate to increase and decrease in a safe, graded way. In several research papers, pranayama has shown an ability to strengthen this system.
People who practice pranayama over several weeks have noticed that they sleep better. Done over several weeks, pranayama improves digestion.
(The series on energy medicine is now concluded)