Be a Yoga-tarian: Channel your Prana.
Image Credit: By Dr Rupal MerchantSpecial to Gulf News
Today we are going to discuss Pranayama. It's not just a breathing exercise aimed at inhaling more oxygen in lungs, as it's commonly known. Let's first understand the word itself.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word. It comprises two words - 'Prana' plus 'Ayama'.
Prana means 'vital force' or life force. Ayama means 'expansion'.
Thus the word pranayama means expansion of the dimension of prana.
Also Ayama means 'control'.
So that means pranayama is control of the vital force by regulated breathing. Prana is a subtle life force energy and paranyama is channeling of prana into the body
There are eight limbs of yoga (we will go into detail of it in my subsequent posts) and pranayama is the fourth limb. Pranayama is important for a healthy body, mind and gaining a higher state of awareness. Yoga asanas help in flowing prana deeper into the muscles, nerves, and organs down to the cellular level, thereby nourishing and renewing the whole body.
The Prana flows through subtle energy channels called Nadis. The quantity and quality of prana and the way it flows through Nadis determine your state of mind.
If the prana level is high in the system and its flows is continuous, smooth and steady, then the mind remains calm, positive and enthusiastic
In a not so healthy person, Nadis may be partially or fully blocked. Lifestyle has a profound effect on prana. Physical activities such as exercise, work, sleep, intake of food, all affect the distribution of flow of prana in the body. Our emotions, thoughts, imaginations also affect the prana. Irregularities in lifestyle, dietary indiscretion, and stress, further obstruct its flow. This leads to lethargy and a drained feeling. It results in metabolic dysfunction and thus results in disease. The techniques of pranayama reverse this process, energising and balancing the body.
We should bear in mind that the human body is constantly at work even when we are resting. All the systems - circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and nervous - are constantly working. So there is a lot of wear and tear of the body tissues.
We need to nourish our body for the repair work. The nourishment not only comes from food but it also comes from the air that we breathe. Oxygen is most important for the body. We can sustain ourselves without food and water for some days but life is impossible without oxygen (air). We breathe in oxygen, which reaches to every cell of our body and we breathe out carbon dioxide. Any imbalance in the level of these two gases and the body goes into shock.
Pranayama helps in digestion - stomach, pancreas, liver, intestines are the organs involved in the process of digestion and assimilation. The deep abdominal rhythmic breathing helps all the organs to work at optimal level.
How it helps?
Inhaling, exhaling and holding your breath, massages these digestive organs, removes obstructed gas, helps in dyspepsia, constipation and other common ailments. The rise and fall of the diaphragm helps in massaging the internal organs and also helps in strengthening the muscles of the intestine.
Pranayama like Bhastrika, Anulom Vilom, Kapaalbhati, Agnisaar kriya and Udyaan bandh , helps in the digestive process by stimulating hormones and secreting the right amount of digestive juices.
Intake of any amount of healthy, nutritious food will be quite useless unless the digestive system is working properly.
More than any other exercise, pranayama can improve the supply of oxygen in the blood. The reason for this lies not only in the fact that during the practice of pranayama, the individual absorbs large quantity of oxygen, but also aids proper functioning of the respiratory system. Once the respiratory system is disciplined by regular pranayama, it remains functioning at the same optimal level throughout the day.
During the practice of pranayama like Ujjaiyi, Kapaalbhati, and Bhastrika, vibrations are created, that spread to almost all the tissues and every cell of the body including arteries, veins and capillaries. The heart being the main organ of the circulatory system, it becomes stronger. The muscles around the heart gets toned and will function in the best possible manner.
Nervous and endocrine system:
During pranayama, especially Bhastrika, the circulation becomes very rapid and quality of blood is very high (rich in oxygen). This good quality blood reaches the endocrine gland, keeping them in good working order. It also reaches cervical nerves, the network of nerves around the spinal cord and the sympathetic nerve. The deep abdominal breathing and practices like Jalandhar bandha, strengthens the spinal cord .Although, the nervous system is in complete working order, and if the secretion of endocrine glands are insufficient then the force of the nervous impulses will be less. The body will be sluggish and cannot carry out physical activity properly - will have poor metabolism and hormonal imbalance.
So, pranayama is the main exercise, which helps in maintaining all internal systems of our body in perfect working condition and thus maintaining equilibrium.
There are four aspects of pranayama.
3) Internal breath retention
4) External breath retention.
The different practices of pranayama involve various techniques, which utilise these four aspects of breathing. For beginners, more emphasis should be given on the first two aspects - inhalation and exhalation - and then slowly they can master the latter two aspects.
We will talk about do's and don'ts of pranayama in the next blog. Until then breathe deeply to recharge your body.
Editor's Note: The blogger is a homeopath, lifelong vegetarian and high level yoga practitioner.
The Full Lotus Pose or Padmasana
How to do the pose:
The Lotus Pose is a classic pose for meditation and pranayama.
Sit on the floor with your back straight
Take your right foot in your hands, and slowly place it on your left thigh as close to the hip as you can. Help align your heel with your hand.
Then take your left foot in your hands, and slowly place it on your right thigh as close to the hip as you can. Again help align the heel, will ensuring the knee stays down. Do the pose slowly and do not force any aspect of the posture.
Slowly lengthen your spine, open up your chest and look straight.
Calm your mind.
Then extend your arms and place your hands on your knees with your fingers in Gyan Mudra or the Knowledge Pose.
Let your wrists rests on the kneecap and the palm faces upwards.
Form a circle by bringing your index finger and thumb together. Keep the other three fingers extended
Opens up your hips.
Increases flexibility in the ankles and knees.
Strengthens your legs.
Gyan Mudra helps with increased mental awareness, peace of mind, creativity and focus.
If you have knee or hip problems, please consult a qualified yoga practitioner and your doctor before practicing the pose.
Dr Rupal MerchantSpecial to Gulf News
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