Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force. The health benefits run deep and regular practice of simple, deep breathing can lead to reduced anxiety and depression, increased energy levels, lower/stabilized blood pressure, decreased feelings of stress and muscle relaxation. Breathing is influenced by our thoughts and our thoughts can be influenced by our breathing, so learning to breathe consciously and with awareness will have a lasting effect on the physiology, both in the mind and the body. As we get older we search harder for valuable tools in helping us restore balance in the mind and body. Pranayama has proven a decisive tool in countering stress and intensifying self awareness and calmness. Respiratory muscles become relaxed and this reduces strain on the muscles of the neck and upper chest.
Beyond the practice of simple deep breathing, the ancient yogis described numerous other types of rhythmic deep breathing that each has various effects on the mind-body physiology. The basis for all deep breathing practices originates in the science of yoga, specifically the branch of yoga known as pranayama.
Some of the most effective and simplest yogic breathing techniques are Ocean’s Breath (good to cool off after a frustrating day), Energizing Breath (good energy booster after feeling sluggish all day), and Complete Belly Breath. To do the latter, put one hand on your belly, relax your abdominal muscles, and slowly inhale through the nose, bringing air into the bottom of your lungs. Your abdomen should rise and thus expanding the lower parts of the lungs. As you inhale your rib cage expands outward, and finally, the collar bones rise. At the peak of inhalation, pause, and then exhale gently from the top of your lungs to the bottom.