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Pranayama Demystified

Pranayama is an ancient breath technique that originates from yogic practices in India. It involves controlling your breath in different styles and lengths. It is known as the fourth anga, or limb, of yoga. The word pranayama comes from two separate words: prana and ayama. Prana translates to breath or life force, while ayama has many different meanings including expansion, length, and rising.

In yogic beliefs, it is thought that you can control your inner force, also known as prana, through a pranayama practice. Pranayama practices have both slow and fast variations. While there are many different types of pranayama practices, some popular ones are:

  1. Ujjayi. Also referred to as “victorious breath,” this type of yogic breathing involves gently narrowing your throat to create resistance as air passes through the body. Ujjayi breathing creates a snore-like sound that can be soothing for some practitioners.
  2. Nadi Shodhana. Also known as “alternate nostril breathing,” centers your mind by correlating the emotional and logical halves of our brain.
  3. Kapalabhati often called “skull shining breath,” is used to purge the body of toxins and clear your energy channels.
  4. Bhastrika also known as “bellow’s breathing” is used to boost energy levels.
  5. Bhramari breathing, also referred to as “humming bee breath,” is used to induce a calming sensation.

Pranayama breathing has numerous benefits particularly for the mind and can be a great addition to your daily routine during pregnancy and post-partum. Benefits include:

  1. Improving sleep quality. The stress-reducing effects of Pranayama breathing can result in better sleep quality because it can lower your heart rate right before bed, which can have a relaxing and calming effect on the body.
  2. Reduce Stress: Neurotransmitters play a key role in modulating and regulating behavior and anxiety. Consistent practice of Pranayama increases the threshold for concentration and alertness, which are cognitive functions controlled by the pre frontal cortex which in turn is may help to decrease anxiety levels.
  3. Clearing the mind. The increased intake of oxygen through Pranayama breathing helps purge the body of carbon dioxide, which benefits the brain and nervous system and can help clear your mind and reduce stress and anxiety, which can improve your cognitive brain function.
  4. Strengthens your lungs. Breathing exercises can help improve lung function and capacity, allowing you to take deeper, fuller breaths. Deep breathing dilates the blood vessels, which can improve circulation and lead to a healthier immune system.

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