Pranayama, what is that? Is it a noun? Is it a verb? Well, regardless, I can tell you that it is amazing and it basically consists of breathing. Yes, pranayama is the art of using your breath as a tool to detox your body, mind and spirit.
According to yogic philosophy, Prana is the vital component that sustains life, the universal energy that makes that lovely heart of yours beat. “Pran” means energy or life force and “ayama” means suspension or expansion of breath, in other words, it means being able to control the breath.
There are various types of Pranayama, and their benefits are a gazillion, but the one will we focus on today is reducing anxiety.
Anxiety is a word we have been hearing a lot lately. We are in very special times, historic times, I dare to say. The current pandemic is causing a revolt of emotions. People are being obliged to stay at home and only go out when necessary (in some countries you may not be able to leave your home at all). And on top of that, there is the economic impact that these measures to control the spread of the virus are causing. These measures can lead us to feeling fearful, anxious or stressed.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Sound familiar? That said, emotions resulting from our thought processes generated in our brain (manomaya kosha), affect the energetic or pranic body (pranamaya kosha) which in turn affect your physical body (annamaya kosha). This is why taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. It's all connected (mind-blow, I know!).
So how does Pranayama reduce anxiety? And how can you introduce this beautiful yogic practice into your new routine at home?
Pranayama uses your breath to influence the flow of prana or energy into the channels of energy in your body (in Chinese medicine they call them meridians, in Yoga they're called nadis). Using these breathing techniques calms your nervous system by balancing the different types of prana within your pranayama kosha and also helps you become more aware and in control of your mind, your thought process and in turn your emotions. By that I mean that you become less reactive to external events.
For a great explanation of the koshas check out this article from Yoga International.
Ok. So how do I start practicing pranayama?
There are different types of pranayama techniques, but let's focus on the basics which suffice to reduce our anxiety levels.
Long and behold, belly breathing.
You can practice this lying down, after your asana practice or before sleeping on your bed.
Lie down and relax your body. Just let it sink into the floor or your mat.
Place the right hand on your belly and your left hand on the center of your chest.
Observe the spontaneous breath without trying to control it. Let it be natural.
Now, begin inhaling deeply, all the way down to your navel. And exhale slowly and deeply.
You will notice that your right hand on top of your belly will move up with the inhalation and down with your exhalation. Your left hand should barely move.
Do this for a few minutes, becoming very aware of the movement of your belly. Breathing very slowly and deeply (try counting 4 seconds on your inhale and 8 seconds on your exhale). You will notice that after a few rounds, your mind will be calmer and you will feel more relaxed, you might even start falling asleep.
When you're ready to stop, simply allow your breath to go back to its natural pattern.
This is also a great technique to use before meditation or at any time of the day when you're feeling overwhelmed. Just go back to your body, your breath, and I promise you will notice the difference.
Sending you love,