A common misconception about yoga is that it is just about moving one's body, and similar to a work out session.
Yoga 'asanas' (poses) are in fact, a holistic system which helps a practitioner make healthier and more conscious choices, when practiced regularly. It also brings positive shifts in many areas.
However, yoga is not just about asana. It also incorporates other important elements, such as pranayama (breathing), and dyana (meditation). Practising all 3 will eventually guide a practitioner towards a better life.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit term made up of the words "prana", which means life force or energy, and "ayama", which means extension or mastery.
A proper prayanama technique, practised "slowly and deeply", increases the lung's capacity, brings more oxygen into the body, and stimulates the nerves.
Now, let's look at the benefits of pranayama, one by one:
1) Increases a person's life spanIt is said that pranayama purifies as many as 80,000 nerves in the body. This is because it helps a practitioner to breathe systematically, and according to yogic philosophy, a person's longevity depends on their breathing rate.
2) Helps one look younger
A proper pranayama practice will cater a lot of oxygen to the body, including the face. The added oxygenation in the blood is shown in the skin, making it radiant, and reducing signs of ageing, like wrinkles and dark circles under the eyes.
3) Get smarter!
The added oxygen supply to the brain during a pranayama practice, increases brain activity, thus making it function more vitally.
4) Strengthens the immunity system
Pratising pranayama on a regular basis reverses the "normal" degeneration of a human body. It improves the immunity system and increases the health of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells tied to immunity), which helps our bodies fight viruses and bacteria.
5) Get better sleep
Practising the proper breathing technique will provide calmness to one's body and mind, paving way to better sleep.
6) Balances energy, stabilizes mood
Practised in a long term, pranayama can help one cope with issues like anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, and improve focus and increase self-awareness.
7) Increases mindfulness
Pranayama enables a practitioner to experience quietness, stillness and calmness, and concentrate on their "inner qualities".
8) Cleanses the body
Do you know that pranayama can increase the velocity of fluid that moves through the tissues in our body? This process cleanses the tissue, and the lymphatic system, while increasing the amount of nutrients absorbed.
9) Improves lung health
Lungs benefit the most through pranayama practice. It expands the capacity of the lung, cleanses it, and fills it with fresh nutrients, thus improving the organ's overall function.
10) Improves the lymphatic system
The lymphatic system is a vital part of our body's immunity as a non-healthy one will cause the accumulation of toxins in one's body, making them feel stiff, swollen, and heavy. Deep breathing during pranayama will make the organs function more effectively, thus functioning as the much needed "pump" for the lympathic system, which in turn, will smoothen the operation of the whole body.
Nizha Periaswamy is a yoga instructor and freelance writer.
Photo source: Jenani Udayakumaran