There is more and more research coming out that reveals that the yogic practice of pranayama is critical in the mind-body connection and can even cure some common ailments. When we look at the benefits of yoga and pranayama, and how they affect the body and mind, it becomes clear why this practice has been passed down for millennia. If you’re looking for a magical cure, begin with the simple practice of sitting down and focusing on your breath. Obviously, the practice of pranayama is much more involved than that, but let’s start by simplifying things for the sake of clarity.
What is “mind-body” connection
Pranayama is at the center of the mind-body connection and the reason why is found in the name itself. Pranayama is a conjunction of two Sanskrit words: prana - the life force, and ayama - to extend. Therefore pranayama is the practice that extends or strengthens our life force. Sounds great, right?
The good news is that when we extend prana in the body we also exert a positive effect on the mind. This is because both prana and the mind are rooted in the heart and what you do to one, you do to the other. This is also why pranayama is powerful heart medicine. Via this shared root our manner of breathing can quickly change our mental state and vice versa. One should recall that the goal of yoga is samadhi, a supreme state of peace. It is the practice of pranayama that offers us the ability to transcend from the physical realm and work on the more subtle levels of the mind.
Benefits of Pranayama
The multifaceted benefits of yoga are well-known. However, one should remember that yoga is an 8-branch system, called either Patanjala Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, which includes pranayama among its limbs. What role then does pranayama specifically play? Pranayama offers us a rare opportunity to affect the core of being human and exert a profound healing effect. Pranayama can be likened to a drop that falls on the water whose ripples emanate in all directions. Our practice is that drop, our minds and bodies are the water. When we practice pranayama some of those healing ripples may be experienced in our body and mind as:
- lower blood pressure
- increase mental clarity and focus
- decrease stress levels
- healthy lungs
- less mucous
- greater sense of overall vitality
- healthy digestion
For the above reasons and many more, in my private practice as an Ayurvedic Practitioner, every one of my clients leaves with pranayama practices to work on at home. I can say with the utmost sincerity that I see a difference in how quickly one achieves their health goals according to their dedication to their pranayama practice.
Vedic science of breath
What greater science could there be than that which leads to altering our state of mind for the better? While western science is wonderful and has led to many accomplishments, it has not always led us to more peace. In fact, sometimes it directly removes peace! Veda means not only knowledge but alludes to higher knowledge, the knowledge of life.
For example, Vastu, the Vedic science of arranging and building a home, shows us how to experience more peace and prosperity in our homes (and thereby our bodies). Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old medical system, teaches us how to heal the body and live in harmony with the world around us. The commonality is that all of these sciences deal with the 3 great qualities, or Mahagunas, which are:
- Sattwa - the qualities of peace, truth and clarity
- Rajas - the qualities of change, movement or excitement
- Tamas - the energy of dullness, heaviness and lethargy.
As one of my teachers eloquently said to me, “Your ability to accomplish your purpose will largely depend on your ability to mitigate the rajas and tamas in your life.” The significance here is that pranayama, the Vedic science of breath control, offers us the ability to directly remove rajas and tamas from its home, namely our own minds.
Yoga of the Masters
While the subject of how to do pranayama will be the subject of a future article, suffice to say that it is an integral part of the science of yoga. As such, think about how you can incorporate pranayama into every yoga session you do - begin with something that is easily accomplishable. This will assure your success on the path of yoga. There’s a good reason why the great yoga teachers of the past and present always had pranayama as a pillar of their practice. It is, after all, the branch of yoga that comes after asana, our physical postures, which implies that it is one step closer to the aforementioned goal of samadhi. Yoga titans, such as B. K. S. Iyengar, are said to have done 1 to 1.5 hours of pranayama daily. While we may or may not aspire to that level, the truth holds that the more you bring this practice into your own life, the more you will see its healing effect ripple across your mind, body, and into the world around you.