Pranayama (Breath control)- part 1

Pranayama is an important, yet little known part of yoga. Its techniques have been practiced for centuries by students of yoga in remote ashrams, and have been preserved for us through many generations both in practice and in hand written books. Until recently, this art and science of yogic breathing was almost completely unknown to the common man like many other ancient Indian arts. Those who knew it used to be very reluctant to share their knowledge and experience with anyone, unless a student proved by tests that he was ready to receive it.

“ Tasmin sati swas praswas yogartivich pranayama”(1)

Tasmin : In this,
Sati : Being,
Swas : Inhale,
Praswas : Exhale
Gati : Flow
Viccheda : Cutting-off
Pranayama : Breath control (2)

This having been (accomplished) “Pranayam” which is controle of inspiration and expiration.

The inspiration of prana-vayu is swas and expiration is praswas and the cessation of both is characteristic of Pranayama.

Pranayama, as traditionally conceived, involves much more than merely breathing for relaxation. Patanjali defines Pranayama as “The regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention.” It is to be practiced only after perfection in asana is attained. Pranayama also denotes cosmic power, or the power of entire universe, which manifests itself as conscious living being in us through the phenomenon of breathing.

What is Pranayama ?

The word Pranayama consists of two parts; prana and ayama. Ayama means stretch, extension, length, breadth, regulation, prolongation, restraint and control and describes the action of Pranayama. Prana is energy, when the self-energizing force embraces the body with extension and expansion and control; it is Pranayama.

Effect of Pranayama on various systems

Nervous system:

Pranayam maintains normal body functions. It influences higher functions of the central nervous system (C.N.S.) like perception, planning, execution of tasks, learning & memory.

It improves coherence between the two cerebral hemispheres signifying synchronization of logical and intuitive function. It increase s alertness, along with relaxation. Alertness decreases the reaction time of the brain. Twelve weeks of yoga is know to decrease the visual and auditory reaction times (3-4). Pranayama alone and Mukh Bhastrika have shown similar effects (5-6). Spatial tasks are enhanced during left nostril breathing and verbal tasks during right nostril breathing. Breathing through a particular nostril also improves spatial memory scores.(7)

Yogic breathing exercises include right and left nostril breathing. These breathing techniques stimulate different divisions of the ANS, thus having useful implications in treating psycho physiological disorders associated with hemispheric and autonomic imbalance (8-9). Right nostril breathing correlates with the activity phase of the basic rest activity cycle, it activates the sympathetic nervous system as shown by an increase in the oxygen consumption and left nostril breathing decrease the sympathetic activity as manifested by an increase in the level of volar galvanic skin resistance (10-11). Nostril rhythm increases the theta rhythm, the mean alpha (a) and beta (b) power followed by reduction in the asymmetry in b band in the EEG (12-13). Pranayama exercise of Ujjayi and Bhastrika also increased the amplitude and decreased the latency of Na wave of middle latency AEP, indicating facilitation of processes of sensory signal transmission. these practices involve the use of various cortical mechanisms and corticofugal control processes that may alter the process of information processing at the level of the brain steam (Telles et al 1992). Similarly in epileptics, improvement in AEP, visual contrast sensitivity has also been observed (14).

Pranayama & Harmonal Balance :

The glandular activity increased and hormonal profile is balanced through pranayam . Ujjayi with long and short kumbak effects adreno-medullary secretions (15).
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