Pranayama: The Ayurvedic Health Benefits Of Balanced Breathing


Have you ever thought about the way you breathe or the real magic behind your breathing? What will happen if your breath stops for a minute or two? Unimaginable and sounds pathetic, right? Pranayama can be called as the art of breathing for healthy living. This Sanskrit word means ‘extension of the life force’ in which ‘Prana’ means ‘breath or life force’ and ‘ayama’ means ‘expansion or to extend’. Ancient Ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita have explained in detail about ‘Prana’ and its role in health and ailments. According to Ayurveda, Pranayama is a respiratory exercise and an exemplary technique to maintain physical health and augment mental health through spiritual values while harmonizing with the universal prana.

What is Pranayama? Pranayama is a vital part of the Yogic science, which is the sister science of Ayurveda. With the clear definition derived from the above para, all I have to explain about this spiritual healing technique is that it is the ‘control of breathing in a learned style’. This ideal breathing practice helps the body to meet its necessary oxygen requirements and release carbon-di-oxide and other toxins from the body. Pranayama should be done only after getting a proper training from an expert in Yoga. If done incorrectly, this exercise might increase the imbalances in the doshas, consequently ending up with diseases.

The three simple steps of Pranayama include Puraka (Inhalation), Kumbhaka (Retention) and Recaka (Exhalation). Slow and deep inhalation helps in the intake of enough oxygen for the body followed by total retention of the inhaled oxygen, which enables the system to acquire it. At the time of retaining the breath within, attention is focused on any particular part of the body like the forehead or the heart for gaining inner light. The final step is exhalation that is done through lungs or abdomen, where the impurities from your body are exhaled out.

Ayurvedic health benefits of Pranayama: Ayurveda is a holistic healing methodology that considers an individual as a universe in the universe based upon the solid principle that universe is also made up of the 5 vital elements and human body is also made up of the same 5 elements. Ayurveda considers ‘Pranayama’ as a juncture at which an individual’s own consciousness attains oneness with the universal consciousness. This paves way for realizing the immortal spirit vested within our body. The most significant health benefits of Pranayama according to Ayurveda are:

1. Enhances the quality of life: Pranayama or Yogic breathing helps you learn the art of deep and slow breathing, which aids in reduced rate of breathing. The normal respiratory rate in adults is about 12 breaths per minute at the time of rest. Increased respiratory rate like 20 or 30 breaths per minute are seen only in sick people, especially who are diagnosed with cancer, cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS and few other chronic conditions. Dr AC Guyton has said in The Textbook of Medical Physiology that “All chronic pain, suffering and diseases are caused from a lack of oxygen at the cell level”. Ayurveda recommends the practice of Pranayama to acquire enough oxygen to all the cells of the body and for reduced rate of breathing say about 5 to 6 breaths per minute. This helps in relaxation of nerves and muscles while lessening the wear and tear of internal organs.

2. Longevity or Increased life span: Increased life span or longevity is based upon an individual’s rate of breathing, according to Yoga, the sister science of Ayurveda. Pranayama teaches one to lower the rate of breathing and directly contributes to increased life span. As most of us know, one of the predominant living organisms on earth that has the highest life span is Tortoise and the major reason being its reduced rate of breathing that is only 4 to 5 breaths per minute.

3. Contributes to a healthy heart: A healthy heart is an incredible treasure supporting your welfare. This is an active organ of the body that works 24/7 in all the 365 days in a year. Practicing Pranayama regularly helps in the circulation of more oxygen to the blood and consequently supplies more oxygen to the heart and its muscles. This supports better functioning of your heart and effectively removes the toxins from the body.

4. Improves mental health: Inculcating regular practice of Pranayama strengthens your mind and grants you ultimate solace. A disturbed mind and a stressful life demands most of our time and steals our joy and serenity. Pranayama can also be called as positive breathing as it sows positive thoughts in our mind and emancipates the negative feelings like materialism, anger, depression, jealousy, stinginess, sluggishness, egotism and many other. This healing exercise improves the concentration power and paves way for better memory, enhanced spiritual skills and the eternal feeling of inner peace and harmony.

5. Healthy aging: Pranayama is the perfect way of treating the imbalances of all the three doshas namely vata, pitta and kapha. Vata aggravation leads to ill-health especially when a person turns older. Practicing Pranayama on a regular basis helps in keeping the mind and body in control. The sufficient amount of oxygen taken in by the body assists in treating Vata imbalances where Air is the predominant energy. This helps in protecting the health of the heart and lungs while preventing the negative symptoms of aging like rheumatism, backache, loss of vitality, solidifying arteries, improper blood circulation, dry and wrinkled skin, listless diaphragm and much more.

Start practicing Pranayama in a clean, bug-free environment especially in the early hours of the day when the energy levels of your body and the nature are at its best. Using aromatic Ayurvedic essential oils with therapeutic values while doing Pranayama can help you serve your health conditions better as it instills a positive sensation while fostering your body to accept the inner power granted by the natural fragrance of these oils. I can sense a ray of hope everyday when I practice Pranayama with the everlasting company of my favorite spiritual oils for fragrance, yes Frankincense essential oil along with Bergamot essential oil. It’s your turn now.

Thought for the day:

Inhale and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.                                -Krishnamacharya

Suggested Reading:

  1. Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing By B. K. S. Iyengar
  2. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha/2008 Fourth Revised Edition by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  3. Moola Bandha: The Master Key by Swami Buddhananda
  4. Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization by Dr. David Frawley

Reference Links:

  1. Pranayama by Wikipedia
  2. Pranayama, Yoga, and Ayurveda by California College of Ayurveda
  3. Normal Respiratory Rate and Ideal Breathing by NormalBreathing.com