As a stand-alone practice of yoga…

pranayama allows you to either energise or soothe internal energies found within the Nadis. Yoga texts as far back as the 6th century BC describe the Nadis (little rivers) as energy channels found in the body. Similar to the concept found in Chinese Medicine of the meridians, the Nadis can either hold stagnant energy or excess energy. Practicing pranayama helps release the ‘stagnant’ and harmonise the ‘excess.’ With anywhere from 72,000 – 350,000 + Nadis, according to varying texts, the key focus is on three main pathways. These are Ida, Pingala and Shushumna.

Shushumna is known as the central energy channel. It is thought that Shushumna lies along the spine in the cerebrospinal fluid, whilst Ida and Pingala weave in and out of each other, connecting at certain points (Chakras) along the spine.  For Shushumna to be an open ‘river’ for the smooth flow of energy, both Ida and Pingala need to be equally balanced. The practice of pranayama helps with this process and brings with it many benefits for our physical, emotional and mental health.

Some of these include:

1 – Digestion

Focusing the breath into the belly, activates the diaphragm which creates a gentle “massage” on the organs helping improve digestive system functions as the diaphragm and attached abdominal muscles massage & stimulate the digestive organs.

2 – Heart & lungs

Studies show that diaphragmatic breathing normalises heart rate, increases vagal tone and reduces high blood pressure and hypertension. In addition to drawing breath down into the diaphragm, pranayama can also strengthen the lungs, assisting with management of asthma, bronchitis and other lung related disease.

3 – Body

Our lymphatic system is stimulated by muscular activation, which is why sitting for too long leaves us sluggish and fluid filled. Because the lymphatic system is a major player in our immune system, it’s essential that it is regularly stimulated for regular drainage of excess internal fluid. These breath practices, strengthen and activate the chest muscles, encouraging drainage of key lymph nodes around the chest and arms.

4 – Mood

Pranayama techniques have been known to reduce instances of panic attacks, depression and assist with management of PTSD. The practices assist with enhancement of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter GABA. A chemical which binds to receptors in areas of the brain responsible for emotions, senses, regulation of heartbeat.

5 – Sleep

Regular practice of pranayama improves overall sleep quality and through reducing obstructive sleep apnoea episodes and insomnia.

Pranayama in the west, is one of the forgotten ‘limbs’ of yoga in our pursuit of the physical.  But the two go hand in hand. Pranayama offers a more accessible yoga pathway to calm states of mind, than yoga asana.