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What is Pranayama and What Can
it Do for You?

Bette Phelan
Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher

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  What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is a sanskrit word. It literally means: prana (life force) yama (mastery or control of). Gaining control or mastery of your breath is very powerful.

Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga and is combined with “hatha” or the physical poses during sadhana (yoga practice). However, various forms of pranayama may be practiced on there own with very positive effects.

What can pranayama do for you?

Before I tell you the positive effects practicing pranayama can have on your health I’d like to ask you to take a moment and observe your breath.

Place a hand over your belly and another hand over your heart. Without changing or altering your breathing in any way, simply observe where you feel the breath in your body. If you’re like most people, you may notice that your breath is quite shallow and is primarily felt in the upper chest.

If you watch a baby breathe you’ll notice that their entire torso moves as they breathe. This is the way most of us started out breathing when we were young. Overtime we learned to hold or limit our breath for various reasons - anxiety, not wanting to feel our feelings, needing to hold our stomachs in to appear slim.

Practicing pranayama can begin to break down your shallow habit of breathing and establish a more healthy pattern. In my experience of 30 years of practicing pranayama and yoga, I feel that pranayama is more poweful than the yoga poses alone. Pranayama can have profound effects on your health and your sense of well being.

From each breath you take your body extracts about 25% oxygen out of that breath. Think about it… if you’re breathing very shallow breath all day, you’re not getting much oxygen!

There are some interesting studies that have been done on lack of oxygen and chronic diseases. A study conducted if Germany in the late 1940’s showed that lack of oxygen in the blood could lead to normal body cells turning into cancer cells. Another study done at Baylor University in the US has shown that lack of oxygen is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and cancer. In the Baylor study they were able to reverse arterial disease in monkeys by infusing oxygen into diseased arteries.

Oxygen purifies the blood stream and pranayama exercises are a highly effective means of oxygenating your blood. With more oxygen in your system you will have more energy and enhanced mental focus. Basically, by purifying your blood stream, every part of your body benefits.

In addition to the physical benefits your body gains from practicing pranayama you’ll notice improvements in your mental and emotional state as well. Deep breathing calms the nervous system and quiets your mind.

If you haven’t tried pranayama before, start practicing today! You’ll notice improvement right away.

For a quick lesson in Dirga Pranayama take our mini workshop.