Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which is translated as “control of the breath” or “control of the life force.” It refers to a series of breathing exercises from the simple to the complex which are designed to be part of the practice of yoga, a physical and spiritual discipline which has been practiced in India for thousands of years. Many yoga classes around the world feature some aspect of pranayama, depending on the philosophy of the class and the skill level of the students.
It is extremely important to remember that advanced pranayama techniques can be dangerous, especially for people with certain health conditions. As a result, it is strongly recommended to only practice pranayama under the supervision of a guru or experienced yogi, and health conditions and issues should be clearly communicated beforehand. You may also want to discuss pranayama with your doctor, who can talk about which pranayama techniques will be safe for you.
At its simplest, pranayama is about paying attention to breathing. Without breathing, we cannot live, and many yogis believe that mindful breathing is a very important part of their practice. Regular deep breathing also helps people move into the stretches and poses of yoga, and it can help people focus as they meditate or attempt to concentrate on holding a pose. Being mindful of one's breathing is also a good way to stay in touch with the body, according to some practitioners.
As yoga students advance, they learn about different types of pranayama breathing, all of which are meant to be beneficial in some way. Some breaths, for example, are meant to cleanse the body of toxins, while others are supposed to stimulate the flow of life force of prana through the body, benefiting the skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. Pranayama is also an important part of meditation.
People may practice pranayama as part of a physical yoga session or as part of their meditation techniques, but pranayama can also be practiced on its own. Some people, for example, like to run through several breath techniques when they get up in the morning, to energize their bodies and prepare for the day. Others find that a few minutes of pranayama can be beneficial during the day, helping them to focus on various tasks without neglecting their bodies.
Advocates of pranayama make a number of claims about its benefits. It certainly does help to oxygenate the body, and some people find that regular breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga help to reduce strain and stress. People also believe that it stimulates the immune and digestive systems, and that pranayama can help the body and mind to run more smoothly.