Pranayama: what is this yoga exercise?

Pranayama- yoga exercise

The practice of yoga is not limited to performing postures. This discipline includes many other aspects, such as pranayama, whose exercises consist in regaining control of your breath.

What is pranayama?

Pranayama is one of the 8 pillars of yoga. Among its 8 members, we find:

  • Asanas: these are the different yoga postures;
  • dharana: concentration;
  • Dyana: meditation;
  • pratyahara: to refocus on oneself;
  • Yama: social relations, benevolence, authenticity, etc. ;
  • Niyamas: self-discipline, having a pure body, cultivating hard work, letting go, getting to know yourself, contentment, etc. ;
  • samadhi: connection to the universe to form oneness;
  • pranayama: breath control. 

Breathing is the most vital universal essence. The breath, the oxygen, is the energy most essential to the life of any living being. It is in the first place because we can survive a few weeks without eating, a few days without drinking, and only a few minutes without air. 

For this thousand-year-old discipline, yoga, the development of your breath is fundamental to feeling good daily. It is at this precise moment that pranayama comes into play. This term can be translated as:

  • The control for “Yama”;
  • the breath, the expansion for “prana”.

In other words, it is about managing to discipline your breath through breathing exercises. But pranayama goes far beyond simple deep inhales and exhales. The objective is to lengthen our respiratory cycle to obtain a perfect balance of energy in the air in our body.

How is pranayama practised?

To breathe is to absorb enough oxygen to live. And breathing properly takes work. Our unconscious and autonomous system governs this essential function. We control it only when we pay attention to it. We are often short of breath: “I need to breathe”, “catch your breath”, and “calm down, breathe”… are all expressions revealing an uncontrolled breath daily. 

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Sometimes, this control escapes us, especially in moments of intense stress or emotional overflow. By practising pranayama exercises, breathing becomes better daily. Because yes, in the yoga discipline, it must be practical and tangible. All the times of the respiratory cycle must be perfectly controlled, in particular:

  • Air intake or inhalation: it must be slow, progressive and gentle;
  • internal retention: the air is kept in the body for a long time just after inhalation;
  • exhalation: the expulsion of air must be profound, and you must concentrate on your lungs;
  • external retention: focus on the empty lungs just after exhaling.

For pranayama, the inspiration must be of equal duration to the expiration.
Also, it is essential to take care to fill the lungs with air at the end of the inspiration and empty them at the end of the expiration.
The goal is to have controlled breathing of superb quality; training to prolong these breathing cycles is necessary. It is, therefore, also on the mind that we must act to fight against natural and automatic desires, such as, for example, catching our breath at the end of expiration.

What are the benefits of yoga pranayama?

A better-oxygenated body

Inspiration, for most people, tends to be too short. It is, therefore, not deep enough; we speak of superficial inspiration. Inhaling a more significant amount of oxygen increases this element’s supply to the brain. By practising pranayama, you use the entire lung surface, and your respiratory system thanks you for it. Your whole organism is better nourished with vital energy and, therefore, better balanced. And to maintain this equity is to achieve a harmony between body and mind, which is fundamental to maintaining good health in the yogic culture. 

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A pure body

Breathing is two-way. Thanks to it, the evacuation of waste, in particular carbon dioxide, can take place. The elimination of toxins is just as essential as the supply of oxygen. Like inhaling, exhaling is usually not long and deep enough. As a result, some of the waste-laden air resides in the lungs but also in the trachea. And to filter these carbon dioxide residues, the body recycles them by drawing on oxygen reserves. As a result, the body is poorly oxygenated due to impurities. This is why, for pranayama yoga, completely emptying your lungs is as essential as inhaling. Thus, a minimal amount of polluted air remains in the lungs, making it possible to have a purer organism. 

Deep well-being

Pranayama brings a large quantity of oxygen, conveyed by the blood, into the brain. Efficient breathing will then increase the ability to concentrate. In addition, a properly oxygenated brain offers intense mental relaxation. This relaxation leads to an avalanche of benefits:

  • Better stress management;
  • emotional regulation;
  • decrease in anxiety;
  • better quality sleep;
  • improved brain function;
  • helps fight depression.

What are the pranayama yoga exercises?

Pranayama yoga breathing exercises are very numerous. If you are a beginner, taking at least one course supervised by a yoga teacher is advisable. To help you at home, here are 3 examples of breathing exercises.

shitali breathing

This type of pranayama yoga exercise helps to regain physical energy. That is why it is also called refreshing breath. It also calms emotions. To perform this exercise, you must sit on a chair or in an armchair. Take a deep and slow breath through your mouth, and more precisely with your tongue: form a tube with this organ. Like this, you are sucking in the air with a straw. At the end of the inspiration, go back into the tongue, but keep this tube shape. Hold your breath. Then, expel the air slowly with your nostrils.  

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The Kapalabhati breath

Also called fire breathing, it is a question of having a passive inspiration and an active expiration. To do this pranayama yoga exercise, you must stand in the lotus position, keeping your back straight. Take one or two passive breaths: they are slow but natural. Then release the air with force and speed so the nose can emit that noise. Kapalabhati breathing helps to have a clear and lucid mind. It helps to detoxify the body and eliminates specific mental blockages.

Alternate Breathing: Nadi Shodhana 

You can sit in the lotus posture to do this pranayama yoga exercise. The hand intervenes in this respiratory drive. Place the right thumb against the right nostril. Your index and middle fingers are placed between the eyebrows. As for the ring finger, it is against the left nostril. Take a deep breath, then expel the air by releasing your nostrils. Then close the right nostril to inhale through the left nostril. Hold your breath slightly. Close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Make a slight air retention. Then take an inhale with the right nostril, then hold your breath. Close the right nostril, then exhale through that same nostril. Alternate breathing helps regulate emotions, purify the body and cleanse the nasal passages.