Breathing – it’s the first thing we do when we enter this world, the last thing we do when we exit and the one thing we all must do in order to sustain life in-between.
Breath, quite literally, equals life.
But what is breath, really?
From a scientific perspective, breath is oxygen we must consume in order to maintain our physical bodies. Yet, from a spiritual perspective (specifically, the ancient Indian system of yoga), breath = Prana: the universal life force that runs through all of us and everything around us. It is the energy that distinguishes the living from the dead. And as the vital energy necessary for our physical existence, this life force (aka “chi”) is believed to operate by flowing through our thousands of energy channels (“nadi”) and energy centers (“chakras”). Simply put, Prana is what keeps us alive; without it, our bodies would perish.
Que: Pranayama Breathwork
What is Pranayama Breathwork?
Before we can understand Pranayama Breathwork, we need to understand the root of the phrase, “Pranayama” — So let’s breakdown the basics:
“Pranayama” is a Sanskrit term used to describe a specific style of breathing exercises (originally practiced by Ancient Indian yogis) used to release stress, increase energy, improve clarity and generally enhance one’s overall health. These exercises are used to clear out any physical, emotional or spiritual obstacles you may be experiencing, and ultimately, free your breath—aka the flow of your prana (life energy).
Where Prana Comes From
While there is an infinite amount of resources from which one can derive, increase, maintain and sustain their prana, all of them can be broadly classified into four main categories: breath, food, rest and being in a calm/happy mindset.
Moreover, every item within these categories possesses varying levels of prana. For example, there is thought to be significantly higher prana in fresh food opposed to stale, frozen, canned or microwaved ones. By that logic, it makes sense that plant-based food (specifically fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc) is thought to contain high levels of prana, while meat (because it is dead) is considered to have low or even negative prana.
Any guesses as to what’s believed to be the most direct and immediate prana source?
HINT: it’s the only category listed above that is 100% free and 100% within your own control…
If you guessed “breath,” take a deep one and reward yourself 😉
Humans can survive weeks without food, about 11 days without rest, approximately 3 days without water, and literally a lifetime without a calm/happy mindset…but when our breath stops—we stop. Like, full stop—6ft under, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Breath is THAT powerful. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the way we breathe plays such an unprecedented role in our physical, mental and spiritual health.
How Prana Works
Everything we do affects our prana: the way we move, act, think and especially the way we breathe affects its flow and vitality. Daily stressors, emotional states (think grudges, jealousy, anger, fear) and physical habits, can all create energetic obstacles in our bodies. Now considering that breath is the most powerful source of prana, it makes sense that how (and how consciously) we do it has the most profound effect on our prana levels. Breathing is the one physiological system that is both within our control and involuntary, but because of this, it is very easy for our breathing to become unconscious, shallow or stilted. It is easier to breathe unconsciously, to let the breath breathe you, so to speak, than to consciously breathe the breath. Unfortunately, this often leads to unintentional, unhealthy breathing patterns that negatively affect your overall health—which is why understanding (and practicing) Pranayama Breathwork is so incredibly important.
Why Practice Pranayama Breathwork
When we use Pranayama Breathwork exercises to free the breath, we are actively allowing prana to flow through our bodies. Those who practice this report that its effects are not only healing — but energizing, relaxing, relieving, even comforting. From a scientific POV, this could be credited to pranayama’s ability to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
How to Practice Pranayama Breathwork
To experience the most life-changing benefits of pranayama, you must develop a regular practice. But this can be done in as little as 20-30min a day. It is also worth noting that the best time to practice pranayama is on an empty stomach, in the AM and in a room full of fresh air.
That said, certain kinds of pranayama are NOT recommended if you are pregnant, on your period or have digestive problems due to their requirement of abdominal contractions with an upward motion. Pranayama involving rapid rhythms or breath retention should also not be practiced if you have hypertension, asthma or heart disease. This is not a complete list of precautions, so if you have a specific health condition make sure you speak with your health professional before practicing.
For an excellent guided Pranayama Breathwork session, including: how to spot pranic energy in the air and how to pull it into your body, checkout the preview of Ali Smith’s presentation from The Breathing Festival Archive!
Want More? Members have exclusive access to the entire Festival Archive. Click Here to begin your membership today!
You may not have thousands of dollars to hire your own private breathwork coach or attend expensive breathwork classes, and the beauty of an ICFB membership is so you don’t have to! As home to one of the largest collections of digital breathwork resources in the world, our members have on-demand access to guided breathwork sessions, full talks, and bite-size toolkit sessions, in addition to LIVE (via Zoom) events from the world’s leading breathwork masters.
Whether you’re looking for ways to decrease your anxiety, increase your athletic performance, calm down your kids or connect deeper in your spiritual practice — Breathwork is the modality for you.
Brought to you by the International Center for Breathwork.
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* This article includes information from the following sources: