“Pranayama” or control of the breath is an integral part of a yogic lifestyle. Yogis are people who control their mind and body, and live a life based on the principles of truth, non-violence, non-stealing, moderation and non-hoarding or generosity. Their lives are dedicated to personal practices of purity, contentment, austerity, self-study and devotion to the eternal truth. These are the “yamas” and “niyamas” or ethical guidelines which form the first 2 limbs of “ashtanga yoga” (8 limbs of yoga). The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve nirvana or eternal bliss, live in complete harmony of self with the Universe.
The human soul constantly yearns and strives for never-ending, complete happiness. Satisfaction of the sense organs (sight, smell, sound, taste and touch) seems to provide momentary joy but is often immediately followed by disappointment when the needs are not met. The yogic gurus realized that letting go of the senses with meditation brings lasting peace. They laid down an organized pathway of asanas or physical postures and breathing practices to advance to meditation. The asanas help stabilize the physical body so we can direct our attention to the breath. Breathing practices assist with steadying our “prana” or life force so we can further dedicate our focus to the mind. Thus, breath control leads to mind control and lays the foundation for meditation.
There are various forms of pranayama that have been taught through generations in India for thousands of years. Having a guru to guide you with the technique initially is preferable. However, the breathing practice is simple enough that you do not need to be an expert of any kind to adopt a daily breathing ritual. The common ones taught today are ujjayi, surya, chandra, nadi shodhana or anulom vilom, brahmari, kapalbhati and bhastrika. Pranayamas can be heating or cooling to the body. When practiced daily they have numerous benefits such as controlling heart rate, blood pressure, stress relief, better digestion, stronger immunity to name a few. These are just the positive side effects! Pranayama helps control the mind and senses, thereby curbs bad habits and addiction, including food cravings. So, pranayama can be included into a weight loss and healthy lifestyle.
In today’s world, life is fast-paced and stressful. Social media and the internet have brought a quick praise-or-criticize culture with a human want for constant approval and acceptance. Our mind is perpetually occupied with long to-do lists, information excess, processing virtual relationships and media overload. At this day and age, it is fascinating that the ancient practices of breathing are still relevant and powerful in reinvigorating our inner balance to calm and connect with the self. Try adding 15 minutes of breathing practice to your morning or night routine and you might find it unlock immense possibilities by decluttering your brain, and streamlining your thoughts and actions.
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