Saagara's Guide to Breathing - Pranayama

Breathing

A Foundational Approach to Health

Breathing is the most constant and necessary activity we do. It is not only the fundamental act that provides us with oxygen, but the manner in which we breathe is linked with the well-being of every body system. Many of us, breathe inefficiently, taking shallow breaths using our chest muscles rather than our diaphragm.


An Introduction to Pranayama

Pranayama (प्राणायाम prāṇāyāma), is one of the eight limbs that form the structural framework of yoga. Pranayama is a combination of two words from the ancient Indo-Aryan language Sanskrit. Prāna, refers to life force or vital energy, "āyāma," refers to suspend or restrain. Often translated as control of the vital energy. In yogic terms it is interpreted as "breath control".

The goal of pranayama is to train people to prolong and regulate their breathing in simple way, thus obtaining both physiological benefits as well as clarity of thought. Pranayama is meant to train people in a method that is intuitively designed, easy to understand, and suitable for both beginners and advanced practitioners of yoga. Pranayama exercises can be approached without a lot of training or effort, thus lowering the barriers to getting you started on improving your health.

Universal Breathing by Saagara is a training tool that uses music and animated visuals that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm. Slow diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to have multiple health benefits. It allows a more healthful state to be experienced and has an almost immediate relaxing effect. It has also shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate naturally, increases stamina and overall fitness.

When you practice Pranayama, you are guided through four distinct stages of breathing, which together complete one cycle.

pranayama step 1

Stage One: Inhalation

Inhale slowly, deeply and consistently, breathing in from the core using the diaphragm. In yoga terms, this stage is called Puraka.

pranayama step 2

Stage Two: Retention

Stage two involves retention of the air inhaled. In Yoga, this stage is called Kumbhaka.

pranayama step 3

Stage Three: Exhalation

Steadily and slowly, exhale the air retained after inhalation. Your muscles should return to a relaxed state. In yoga, this stage is called Rechaka.

pranayama step 4

Stage Four: Suspend

Stage four begins when lungs are empty. This is a pause, with no movement of air in or out of the lungs. Your muscles should stay relaxed in this stage before you begin the cycle again with stage one. In yoga, this stage is called Bahya Kumbhaka.


How to Breathe Properly

Breathing is our most constant and necessary activity, yet we often don’t think about it. Many of us breathe inefficiently; we breathe through our mouths, taking shallow breaths and using our chests rather than our diaphragms. However, if you train yourself to improve your breathing, you can become aware of the natural medical benefits of slow, deep breathing, which has been demonstrated to lower stress, improve circulation, and benefit your cardiovascular system.  Harvard-trained MD Dr. Andrew Weil says "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly."

Respiration is one of the most important functions of the body; Oxygen plays a key role in our metabolism. The rhythm and rate of breathing not only reflects one’s physical condition but will also help to create a better physical condition.

How to Do Pranayama (Yoga Breathing)

To perform Pranayama, as you inhale, first push out your abdomen, then expand your chest and as you exhale, first pull in your abdomen to help empty the base of your lungs, then allow your chest to collapse.

This is known as diaphragmatic breathing, because as you inhale your diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdomen. Pushing your abdominal wall out makes room for this to happen. During exhalation, "pulling in" your abdominal wall facilitates the diaphragm rising up.

Breathing and the Diaphragm

diaphragmatic breathing

With diaphragmatic breathing the amount of air entering your lungs increases significantly. This allows more oxygen to enter your bloodstream. Shallow chest breathing allows approximately 350 ml of air to enter the lungs, compared to the 4500ml that can enter the lungs when you breathe diaphragmatically. Training yourself to consistently breathe deeply while using your *diaphragm will ensure that more air enters your lungs.

Another breathing technique is a type of relaxing sigh. Sit in a chair and let out a long sigh of relief, then let air into your lungs naturally. Repeat eight to twelve times.

The right posture

correct breathing posture

As with any exercise, check with your physician before beginning a new regimen. Don’t do Pranayama while driving or operating heavy machinery. If at any time you feel unwell while doing Pranayama, lie down flat and breathe at your own pace until you feel better.

You can practice Pranayama in any position you feel most comfortable in. However, it is suggested to sit on the floor with your legs crossing each other and your spine as erect as it can be. Place your hands on your knees, close your eyes and relax.

Breathing course for beginners

breathing course icon

If you'd like to get started slowly with your Pranayama practice, here a few example breathing patterns that will ease you into the practice of deep breathing. Program these patterns into our app's custom setting and slowly work your way up, starting with the first ratio and progressing to the more difficult ones, never taxing your body.

2:3

     

at 1 min

2:4

     

at 1 min

2:2:4

     

at 4 mins

3:3:6

     

at 4 mins


Diaphragmatic Breathing

inhale

Once you are in a comfortable position, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, first by pushing out your abdomen, thus allowing your diaphragm to move down and your chest to expand. As you exhale through your nose, allow your diaphragm to relax, by gently pulling in your abdomen and emptying the base of your lungs, then allow the rest of your chest to deflate.

If you have any respiratory condition, such as bronchitis or emphysema, exhale through pursed lips and not through your nose.

exhale

Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, first by pushing out your abdomen, thus allowing your diaphragm to move down and your chest to expand. As you exhale through your nose, allow your diaphragm to relax, by gently pulling in your abdomen and emptying the base of your lungs, then allow the rest of your chest to deflate. If you have any respiratory condition, such as bronchitis or emphysema, exhale through pursed lips and not through your nose.

diagram about the basics of diaphragmatic breathing

With diaphragmatic breathing the amount of air entering your lungs increases significantly. This allows more oxygen to enter your bloodstream. Shallow chest breathing allows approximately 350 ml of air to enter the lungs, compared to the 4500ml that can enter the lungs when you breathe diaphragmatically. Training yourself to consistently breathe deeply while using your diaphragm will ensure that more air enters your lungs.


Benefits of Pranayama

Deep slow breathing using our diaphragm has shown to have many beneficial effects. On average, when most people breathe in normally, they take in only about 350 ml of air into the lungs. When we breathe deeply, using our diaphragm, we can take up to 4500 ml of air.

Regular use of deep breathing has shown to do the following:

  • + Relieves stress and anxiety and increases focus.
  • + Improves cardiovascular health and fitness.
  • + Reduces blood pressure and heart rate.
  • + Improves quality of life in people affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and asthma.
  • + Improves immune function.
  • + Helps in pain management.
  • + Improves lipid profile.

Less Stress

Breathing is a unique physiological function as it is both voluntary and automatic. By modifying one’s breathing, taking slower, deeper breaths one has the ability to help control the nervous system. Ultimately, breathing slowly can induce a state of relaxation, focus, and calmness.

Better Circulation

When we breathe only using the chest, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. This kind of chest breathing doesn’t fully expand the lungs and leaves static air in parts of the lungs. Expanding only parts of the lungs increases the likelihood of poor blood circulation, which impairs the functioning of the organs and can lead to infection or other health problems.

Deep breathing stimulates and allows your lymph system to work better and thus, avoid circulatory problems. Pumped from the heart, blood circulates oxygen to the arteries and capillaries. Cells in our bodies take oxygen for their health and excrete toxins. Cells depend on the lymphatic as the only way to expel toxins.

Cardiovascular Benefits

How you breathe directly affects your cardiovascular system. Daily practice of deep, diaphragmatic breathing on a daily basis has been shown to have a positive effect on essential hypertension (high blood pressure of unknown cause). Other problems such as headaches and migraines, which can be caused by a lack of oxygen, will also benefit from deep breathing. Although breathing from your diaphragm is easy to do, the habit of doing it must be consciously cultivated before it can become automatic.


Want to try a breathing app?

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