What is the use of learning Sanskrit
Stress management : Four simple and effective yoga breathing exercises
What you are about to learn in this article:
Anyone who thinks of yoga is most likely to think of physical positions such as dog, cobra and even a handstand. But just as central as these postures are the breathing exercises in yoga: pranayama. In yoga, the breath is considered the link between body and mind. Just as the Sanskrit term “yoga” stands for connection, the Pranayamas also stand for connection. Even from this idea it becomes clear which elementary role breathing techniques play in yoga: physically, psychologically, energetically and spiritually.
Breathing exercises are often used before the yoga postures, they are preparations or part of various meditation techniques and can be practiced in connection with the postures, the asanas.
Breathing is therefore an elementary component of yoga - in every yoga class and in every moment. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously; sometimes directed, sometimes fluent. But there is nothing arbitrary about these techniques. They have different effects and meanings. So it is worth taking a brief overview or, best of all, introducing a teacher to help you find the right Pranayama techniques for you.
The most famous techniques of pranayama include the following - some have different names: abdominal breathing, complete yoga breathing, Anuloma Viluma or Nadi Shodana, Kapalabhati or Nadi Shodana, Bhramari, Ujjayi or victorious breath; Sitali - cooling breath, standing uddiyana bandha, sitkari, bhastrika and surya bedha. Step-by-step instructions for some of these techniques are provided below.
What does pranayama mean?
The word “Prana” stands for life energy in Sanskrit. Of course, what this "name" bears cannot be a minor matter.
Pranayama means the controlled guidance of one's own breathing. Those who can guide their breath can also guide their thoughts, is a principle in yoga. Incidentally, it also applies to meditation - it is nothing other than guided, complete concentration. From this point of view, pranayama and meditation follow the same principle. So it makes sense that many meditation techniques in yoga are associated with guided breath or, for example, counting breaths. The breath, prana, is used in many meditation techniques as an anchor for concentration so that the thoughts do not wander.
What is the origin of the yoga breathing exercises?
Historically, pranayama and yoga have been linked to one another from the beginning. Prana already plays an important role in scriptures that are thousands of years old, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Traditionally, Pranayama is assigned to Raja Yoga, one of the four great forms of yoga. The main thing in Raja Yoga is to control your thoughts. This is practiced through eight different "paths" or "branches". This includes the postures (asanas), meditation, moral postures and other things. The fourth branch of Raja Yoga is Pranayama.
How do the Pranayama breathing techniques affect the body and mind?
When speaking of “control” in connection with pranayama and one's own thoughts, this is meant positively. The thoughts should not unconsciously control us in this system of practice or in this philosophy. We ourselves want to be in charge of our being - to feel autonomous and to be able to act that way.
Anyone who feels "remotely controlled" by their own fears or other thoughts and impulses will have an inkling of what is meant. The old, wise yogis seem to have known this problem.
From this it becomes clear how much pranayama and a healthy mind or psyche have to do with one another. And indeed: not only in Eastern philosophy, but also in Western medicine, many of these aspects have been better understood for several years. One reason for this is the large sums of research funds that have been invested in thousands of studies on yoga and its elements since the 1990s.
Scientific studies on pranayama and its effects
Breathing techniques from yoga are often part of scientific research, and more rarely Pranayama is viewed in isolation. Studies show, for example, that the need for nicotine decreases following pranayama exercises. This is why yoga can also help overcome nicotine addiction.
Scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden were able to show in another study in 2018 that nasal breathing apparently has a positive effect on brain functions: the memory of the study participants was improved when breathing through the nose in contrast to breathing through the mouth.
In most pranayama techniques and throughout yoga practice, nasal breathing is the common technique; Mouth breathing is also used specifically in some techniques (see below).
The reasons for the great scientific interest in the various yoga techniques - asanas, pranayama, meditation - are obvious: Firstly, the positive health effects have become more and more visible since yoga with all its aspects experienced a worldwide boom; second, these techniques are an inexpensive form of health care.
How does pranayama affect the nervous system?
What is good for the soul is usually also good for the body. The interactions are now more and more unmistakable to Western doctors. From this point of view, our breathing is a connection between the two parts of our nervous system: Our vegetative - also: autonomous - nervous system cannot be controlled willfully. This includes heartbeat, digestion, metabolism, and more.
The other part is called the somatic nervous system, with which we consciously control our muscles. Breathing is autonomous, but it can also be controlled consciously. In this way, with our breathing and pranayama, we can indirectly influence our vegetative nervous system and the associated body functions.
What diseases or symptoms does pranayama help with?
The connection between our breathing and the autonomic nervous system is an essential reason why techniques such as pranayama and others from yoga can be used so well against stress-related illnesses. And today, in the truest sense of the word, there are countless diseases caused by stress.
This does not only apply to physical problems such as digestive or cardiovascular problems. Stress-related illnesses also include many mental illnesses, which today are the biggest widespread illnesses alongside back problems. Depression, in particular, can be related to stress. The connection between stress and burnout, or more precisely: the chronic fatigue syndrome, is even clearer.
If we perceive stress as less stressful, an important co-factor for many diseases is positively influenced. Pranayama can help with this. Breathing techniques are thus also a form of healthy stress management and strengthening our resilience, i.e. our emotional resistance.
The most effective yoga breathing exercises - with instructions
Which pranayama techniques are particularly effective for a person ultimately remains an individual question. Nevertheless, there are criteria for the different potentials and effects of the exercises.
One criterion can be “simplicity”. What use is an effective technique if it is too complicated for me personally? Other criteria would be: How fast do I "get down" or how well do I relax? Or: Does the technology fit my current condition and my everyday life?
An example: some experts advise against breathing techniques in traumatized people that involve a very strong intervention in natural breathing. One such technique would be Kapalabhati, rapid breathing, also known as “fire breath”. Kapalabhati is a standard element in yoga that is used in yoga classes in many gyms. However, Kapalabhati does not suit everyone and not in every life situation.
Effective Pranayama Exercises:
Pranayama Exercise 1: Abdominal Breathing
Easy to learn without help. Can be used almost anytime and anywhere - at home on the mat, on the bus to work or on the office chair at work for two minutes. Effect: Very quickly calms down and draws attention to yourself and inward. Nice sleep aid. When the exhale is longer than the inhale, this is said to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. It controls the relaxation response.
- Lying on your back or sitting
- Abdominal breathing: to begin with, place one hand on the side of your stomach
- count to three while inhaling, the belly lifts up
- When you exhale, count to three as well, lower your stomach
- so breathe and count a few times
- You can gradually extend the exhalation to six
- when the mind wanders, just bring the focus back to counting
- continue for a few minutes
Pranayama Exercise 2: Complete Yoga Breathing
It is best to start with abdominal breathing, see above. When there is some practice in this, move on to full yoga breathing. Effect: Ensures a good supply of oxygen and relaxation of the muscles.
- Lying on your back or sitting
- one hand lies on the side of the stomach, the other on the side of the upper costal arch
- inhale into the abdomen, the lower hand rises; With the same breath continue to breathe up into the chest and even further to the tips of the lungs above; at last the upper hand rises;
- Exhale: first the chest lowers, then the stomach with the hand on it
- continue a few laps and minutes
Pranayama Exercise 3: Alternating Breathing - Anuloma Viloma / Nadi Shodana
A classic with two names: Anuloma Viloma or Nadi Shodana. Not that easy at first, but once you get used to it, alternating breathing is a good technique to concentrate fully on yourself for a longer period of time. Traditionally attributed effect: Harmonization of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, but this has not been scientifically proven.
- Assume a comfortable sitting position, straight back
- Instructions here for the following rhythm: 4: 4: 8
- Close the right nostril (always with ring finger and thumb), inhale on the left, counting to four
- close both nostrils - always with your ring finger and thumb; count to four
- open on the right and exhale, counting to eight
- breathe in on the right, counting to four
- lock both, counting to four
- open to the left and exhale, counting to eight.
- continue a few laps and minutes
Next round exactly like this: breathe in on the left, count to four, etc. Continue a few rounds. The rhythm is adjusted as follows for advanced users: 4: 8: 8 or 4: 16: 8.
Pranayama Exercise 4: Uddiyana Bandha while standing
The most dynamic of the three exercises. Effect: Very good for relieving inner tension. Ideal for mornings as a pick-me-up or in the evenings after work to reduce stress.
- Breathe in and out as normal twice while standing
- Exhale completely with your mouth, bend your knees slightly, pull in your stomach and pull up slightly
- Chin on chest, tongue on roof of the mouth
- Maintain vacuum in the stomach
- when the impulse comes to inhale: inhale through the nose and straighten up
- Repeat 2 to 4 times
Where can one learn pranayama with expert guidance?
Pranayama is a standard element of every yoga class, whether in the gym or yoga center. It's just part of it. It is important to find the right variant for you and your current constitution. A yoga personal trainer is particularly suitable for beginners and deeper learning levels.
Breathing is fundamental - and so is its effect. It is not for nothing that when stress, worry and excitement is completely independent of yoga and pranayama: "Take a deep breath!" In yoga, the knowledge of the physical, psychological, energetic and spiritual meaning of breathing has been deeply anchored as pranayama for thousands of years. Most of these breathing techniques are easy to learn and their effects can be felt immediately. But what suits you at what point in time depends on many factors. Expert guidance and regular practice are the way to get the most out of pranayama's potential.
About the author: Dr. Kai Kaufmann is a yoga personal trainer and seminar leader for companies on the topics of "Resilience - strengthening inner resistance" and "Stress management".
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