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Think about this –

  • US Navy seals, the most elite counter terrorism forces in the world  practice breath regulation as part of their training. (Details below)
  • A stage actor’s ability to project their voices across the auditorium is due to training in diaphragmatic breathing” – Carolyn Goyder – Voice Coach
  • The most powerful leader in the room is defined by their demeanour –  which is due to their relaxed breath” – Dominic Colenso, Life Coach

Breathing is something we do regularly, whether consciously or unconsciously. It is one of the most vital functions of the body. 

Pranayama is an ancient Indian practice of controlled or regulated breathing. In Sanskrit, “prana” means vital life force and “ayama” means to extend or draw out. In yoga, breath is associated with the prana, thus, pranayama is a means to elevate the prana shakti, or life energies. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve a healthy body and mind.

US Navy SEALs practice these two simple breath techniques that help them stay focused and calm during those critical life and death moments –

#1: “Box Breathing” which consists of an equal period of inhale, holding the breath in, exhale, and holding the breath out. This  practice quickly enables parasympathetic activation  (rest and digest) and enhanced focus. 

Box breathing is known in yoga as “ Samavritti Pranayama”. If you have ever seen a person taking small naps instead of long sleeping & you want the same, the Samavritti pranayama or Box breathing technique is good for you. 

“It was instrumental in saving my life several times in crises,” says Mark Divine a former Navy SEAL commander and now a SEAL trainer. “I was able to remain calm and focus clearly to avoid reactionary thinking, or worse, panic,” tells the former Navy SEAL, now a SEAL trainer. 

#2:“Tactical breathing”: The method focuses on slowing the breathing rate down by breathing through the nostrils, with equal counts for each inhale and exhale. This is the paced breathing technique, usually practiced as a precursor to pranayama.

“Tactical breathing is used when the operator faces stressful situations like combat. Warriors from every culture have used this technique throughout the centuries to maintain a calm and focused mind,” says Divine.

“The calming and focusing effects of this technique are noticeable within just a few minutes of practice” notes Divine.

Pranayama (breath focus) is a time-tested practice enabling physical, mental and emotional balance even during traumatic or extreme situations!! It works as a sort of super brain breath practice.

It is described in ancient Indian texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga sutras of Patanjali which are thousands of years old.

Pranayama breath regulation practices helps draw air deep into the lungs, slowing down the breathing rhythm and stimulating the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in the body. The vagus nerve affects heart rate, digestion and releases a neurotransmitter (acetyl choline) that activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

There are various types of Pranayama, and can easily be practiced by beginners. 

Pranayama practices can be done alone or with asanas (postures) , mudras (hand gestures) or Bandhas (psychic locks). 

Scope of this post is on Pranayama (breath focus) practices done alone and is also excellent for beginners and children.

Overview:

  • Pranayama teaches us to use our lungs to its maximum capacity; consequently, each and every cell of our body receives an ample supply of oxygen, while removing toxins. 
  • The slow breathing technique of Pranayama ,causes comprehensive changes in body physiology by controlling the autonomic nervous system. This consists of involuntary physiologic processes including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. These systems works automatically, without a person’s conscious effort
  • Most people breathe shallowly at sixteen to twenty times per minute. Regular breathing practices help slow this down to about five to seven breaths per minute. Slow breathing enables efficient absorption of oxygen and nutrients and removal of toxins from cells respectively.
  • Paced breathing involves consciously inhaling and exhaling according to a set rhythm. For example, you might inhale for four counts, exhale for six, and repeat. You control the timing, duration, and frequency of every breath and hold breath inside (after inhalation) or outside (after exhalation). 
  • Research shows that paced breathing practices can both focus attention and regulate the nervous system. By tapping into these networks using the breath, we gain access to a powerful tool for regulating our responses to stressful situations.
  • “In stressful times, we typically breathe too rapidly,” writes Richard Rosen. “This leads to a build-up of oxygen in the bloodstream and a corresponding decrease in the relative amount of carbon dioxide, which in turn upsets the ideal acid-alkaline balance—the pH level—of the blood.” This can result in muscle twitching, nausea, irritability, light headedness, confusion, and anxiety. 
  • Pranayama balances the two hemispheres of the brain. “Brain” is a physical organ while “mind” is a more philosophical concept. Pranayama helps control the mind and increase awareness without distraction from the thoughts that constantly bombard our minds. It calms the mind by concentrating on breathing and ultimately going beyond the breath.
  • Pranayama’s such as Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing) , or Brahmari (humming bee breath) augment cerebral blood flow and oxygenation, thereby improving the neuronal activities of the brain centres. While doing Anulom Vilom, the brain as well as the 33 spinal vertebrae, 31 joints of spine are affected and through them, oxygen reaches each and every cell of the body and carbon dioxide is extracted.
  • The vibrations created in Bhramari prayanama (humming bee breath) have a soothing and calming effect on the mind and could play a vital role in improving mental and physical health . Ujjayi pranayama (victorious  or Ocean breath) is a powerful and energetic breathing practice.

A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology ,reveals that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath.

Some Pranayama practices are outlined below , links to some videos also included: 

  If you feel dizzy while practicing, stop and start normal breathing while seated or lying down. 

  1. Learn how to do yogic sectional breathing

Video clip on KapalBhati from the recent AMI yoga pranayama workshop.

https://learn.amiyogaglobal.com/courses/pranayama-breathing

3.Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)  , an effective Pranayama practice which helps activate the right and left brain. It is one of the best pranayama practices purifying the different energy channels in the body.

It induces focus, tranquillity, clarity of thought and concentration and is recommended for those engaged in mental work. Anulom vilom is not to be practised while suffering from colds, flu or fever.

Technique: 

  • Sit comfortably on a mat or on a chair with back straight. 
  • Close the right nostril with the right thumb and breathe in from the left nostril. Close both nostrils and hold breath in. Then close left nostril with the ring finger of the right hand and breathe out from the right nostril. 
  • Now breathe in deeply from the right nostril, close both nostrils, hold breath and then close the right nostril and breathe out deeply from the left nostril. This is one round. Practice 5 to 10 rounds for a start. 
  • The time for inhalation and exhalation should be equal initially and with practice the time for exhalation can be longer than inhalation. Breathing process must be slow, controlled and relaxed.

Anulom Vilom can be combined with the 4 lines of Gayatri Mantra, coordinating with inhale /hold/ exhale/ hold respectively, to further enhance its effects. 

4. Bhramari Pranayama (humming bee breath): This Pranayama involves creating a sound like the humming bee. It induces a meditative state by harmonizing the mind and directing the awareness inward. Practice to be avoided in case of throat infections.

Technique:

  • Sit in any meditative pose with head and back straight, right palm resting on left in Padma mudra.
  • Close the eyes and relax the whole body. Close the lips gently throughout the practice.
  • Breathe in through the nose and exhale slowly and in a controlled manner while making a deep steady humming sound like a black bee. This is one round , repeat 4-5 rounds.

5.Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious or ocean breath): This Pranayama refreshes the brain, calms and stimulates the vagus nerves and the cranial muscles. The vibration sound created in the throat is calming and healing. Avoid if you have throat infections.

Technique:

  • Sit in any meditative pose with head and spine up straight, hands resting on the knees.
  • As you inhale constrict the throat muscles so that there is a narrowing of the air passage, this creates a gentle snoring sound. Exhale following the same method of constricting the throat muscles also producing a gentle snoring sound. One inhalation and exhalation are one round.
  • Practice for 10-12 rounds

Creating a regular pranayama practice can bring tangible and intangible benefits that yogis have recognized for thousands of years. The benefits of  Pranayama can be realized only through experience.

Pranayama is engineered to achieve a natural cleansing process that occurs when the energy (Prana) can flow freely. A healthy flow in the energetic body improves lifestyle and enhances one’s personality.

Remember Inspiration and Respiration have the same root word (Spirare). We “breathe” our thoughts – Dr. Amel Baruch 

The Diaphragm is the King of confidence, keep breathing and keep shining!!  – Dominic Colenso

If you’d like to take a trial session with us: https://go.amiyogaglobal.com/live-yoga-classes/

Reference websites / articles:

  1. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  2. Yoga practices for stress management – Mrs.Usha Karnik
  3. Illustration’s courtesy: Pinterest ; sequencewiz.org ; Giphy.com ; Wikipedia;pngwing,com.
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/pranayama-benefits
  5. https://www.fitsri.com/articles/types-of-pranayama
  6. https://sequencewiz.org/2014/08/13/integrating-right-and-left-brain
  7. Ted ex – Carolyn Goyer, Dominic Colenso

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