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Effects of Pranayama - Physiological Aspect

Dr. Pradnya D. Dandekar

“Pranayama is control of Breath”. “Prana” is Breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control. So Pranayama is “Control of Breath”. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve healthy body and mind.

According to Ayurveda, health is “Prasanna aatmedriya manah, swastha ityabh-idheeyate” which implies “Serenity of Atma (Soul), Mind and Body means Health” Pranayama is an effective way of achieving this health or improve upon the existing health. This technique is an important component of yoga. It is not only means to control ‘Prana-shakti’ (life-force), but also ‘Chitta’ Pranayam is to maintain a slow rhythmic pattern of breathing using both nostrils. It includes three components Purak, Rechak and Kumbhak. The process of controlled inhalation is known as ‘Puraka‘ . The action of controlling and retaining breath is known as ‘Kumbaka’ and the process of controlled exhalation is known as ‘Rechaka’ This produces a balancing effect on the ANS.

Puraka is the voluntary prolongation of the inspiratory phase. It is well controlled in terms of time, force, ventilation and depth as per the proportion. It is done very smoothly keeping the force uniform and thus the speed is regulated. During prolonged phase of Puraka, one uses his/her Inspiratory capacity. Prolonged practice of Puraka conditions the inspiratory centers in the brain and the alveolar stretch receptors get involved. Thus inspiration can be continued under cortical control. As the venous return increases due to prolonged inspiration, cardiac output increases thereby increasing pulmonary circulation- better ventilation perfusion matching and better exchange of gases.

During kumbhaka, increased pulmonary pressures and volumes are maintained, the respiratory centers are gradually acclimatized and trained to withstand higher CO2 concentration. As the blood circulating in the lungs is more, the opening of the collateral channels during the breath hold, leads to efficient exchange of gases. Practice of Jalandhar bandha in this phase helps to prolong the phase of Kumbhaka.

Rechaka is voluntarily controlled exhalation as compared to normal expiration. As one uses his/her expiratory reserve volume and regulates the volume of air expelled per unit time, it helps to prolong the phase and reduces the tendency to forcefully exhale. The conscious effort required for the slow expiration brings the cerebral cortex into picture, it sends inhibitory impulses, which overflow to the adjoining area of hypothalamus concerned with emotions and quietness. This area gives Soothing and Relaxing effect.

Moreover, a gradual controlled prolonged expiration creates a back pressure in the airways, thereby preventing the sudden collapse of the airways, especially in floppy and unstable airways.

For completing the techniques of Pranayama, the help of Drishties(Gazes), Adharasanas (Supporting body postures), Hasta Mudras(Signs expressed by fingers and palms), Bandhas(Internal locks) etc. become necessary and the pressures created in the chest, abdomen and lower abdominal regions bring about desirable changes.

Health Benefits of Pranayama

  • Great effects on Obstructive lung diseases as it reduces bronchospasm, facilitates diaphragmatic relaxation and aids in regulated rhythmic breathing.
  • Helps and improves chest mobility.
  • Improves strength of respiratory muscles.
  • Conserves energy through breathing retraining and regulation.
  • Prevents accumulation of secretions and airway obstruction that interferes with normal respiration.
  • Improves airway clearance and ventilation.
  • Improves endurance.
  • Promote relaxation
  • Helps in treating disease related to lungs, heart and brain.
  • Improves Digestive system and cures diseases pertaining to digestive system
  • Helps in boosting our immune system.
  • Helps in treating chronic diseases like: Obesity, Diabetes Mellitus, Hyperlipidemia, Allergy, Migraine, Hyper acidity, Hypertension, Sexual disorders of males and females, Disorders of kidney

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