Pranayama is the yoga science of extending and building our life force with our breath, and the benefits of regular practice are many. A conscious breath practice links our mind with our body and directly affects our nervous system, bringing us into the present moment, and calming and relaxing all the systems of our body/mind.
Our nervous system has two poles – the sympathetic nervous system, which signals threat, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals safety and allows relaxation. When the flight/fight side is stuck on, which it often is in our over-stimulated world, we feel stressed and anxious. That constant defensive mode is hard on our body, and distracts us from presence and connection with ourselves and each other. The power of the intentional breath practice, or pranayama, can switch on the relaxation and safety side of the nervous system with deep, slow, conscious focused breath. If we do this practice regularly, it can help us to sooth and re-train our nervous system to be more resilient and begin to default to a place of calm and relaxation. That gives us the benefits of more regulation of our emotions and less reactivity, as well as many other health benefits that come from releasing stress.
Pranayama helps us build the capacity to be fully present and clear, and more tuned into our self and our heart.
Start by weaving a simple pranayama practice into each day, along with your asana practice, to start a meditation practice, or before you sleep and whenever you feel anxious. Begin with a simple deep breath, through your nostrils if you can, relaxing your belly and allowing your diaphragm to expand. Exhale fully and slowly, without forcing or tensing your breath. Find a smooth rhythm and continue for 3-5 minutes or more. Done regularly, pranayama can make such a helpful and profound difference for you.
May you cultivate and reap the benefits of this powerful Yoga practice!