Pranayama: Just Breathe

Just Breathe. We do it all day without thinking about it. Our autonomic nervous system takes care of our breathing without us having to think about it like a car on autopilot. Pranayama is simply taking control of our breath like we do when driving and override the car’s autopilot by taking control to tap on the brakes or step on the gas pedal to handle road conditions to be able to go with the flow of traffic. Pranayama practice gives us the ability to speed up or slow down our breath to help navigate our moods to find balance, energy or a sense of calm despite the potholes, detours and obstacles we encounter on the road of life.

Our breath affects our moods and our moods affect how we breathe. Pranayama is another branch of yoga practice involving mindful breathing exercises that help you learn how to pay attention to and manipulate your breath to manage your moods. Prana is sanskrit meaning life-force. Oxygen is our life-force as it important to every cell in our body. Practicing pranayama is the ability for us to control the movement of this life-force to rid ourselves of carbon dioxide in order to receive more life-enriching oxygen. You don’t need to carry around or roll out a yoga mat to practice pranayama you can do anytime and anywhere like standing in line at the grocery store, sitting in your car in bumper to bumper traffic or before heading into a business meeting.

 

Pranayama one of the most effective ways to lower stress, improve physical and mental health from mood to metabolism. Research indicates pranayama practice helps to:


 

  • IMPROVE cardiovascular & respiratory function * muscle strength * overall physical & mental health
  • REDUCE anxiety * blood pressure * cortisol levels * heart rate * inflammation perceived stress * pulse rate
  • INCREASE leptin * lung capacity * theta waves
  • BOOST immune response
  • ENHANCE alertness * creativity * empathy * self-awareness
  • STIMULATE parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) * solar plexus * cerebral cortex * vagus nerve

INHALE

People living with depression have a tendency to have a slumped posture or breathe from the upper chest. Shallow breathing leads to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, hypoventilation, which can cause drowsiness, a sense of dullness, lethargy and & headaches. Yoga breathing exercises that energize the body include:

alternate nostril breath (nadi shodanabellows breath (bhastrika) * breath of fire (kapalabhati) * breath of joy * ocean-sounding victory breath (ujjayi) * power hara * pulling prana  * right nostril breathing (surya bedhana)  * stair-step breath * yogic 3-part breath  (dirga pranayama) equal inhale:exhale (4:4 count)

EXHALE

People living with anxiety tend to have shallow and rapid breathing with the inhalation being longer than exhalation, hyperventilation. Rapid breathing triggers the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which can lead to symptoms of fatigue, frenetic energy, irritability, lightheadedness, panic attacks and poor concentration. Pranayama practices that slow down the breath by increasing the length of the exhalation helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system: 

alternate nostril breath (nadi shodana) * bee breath (brahmari) * left nostril breathing (chandra bedhana) *ocean-sounding victory breath (ujjayi) * stair-step breath * yogic 3-part breath  (dirga pranayama) longer exhale (4:6 count)

The best way to understand how breathing exercises can transform your mood is to practice pranayama:

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RESOURCES

BOOKS

The Principles and Practice of Yoga and Healthcare. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa
Yoga as Medicine. Timothy McCall MD
Yoga for Depression. Amy Weintraub
Yoga Skills for Therapists. Amy Weintraub

STUDIES