Warming up your lungs before Pranayama
Pranayama is fourth step in Ashtanga yoga sadhana. Theoretically, it should be done only after one has excelled first three steps – Yama, Niyama, and Asana. Well, that`s what Sage Patanjali advised for an individual who seeks moksha through yoga. Today we consider yoga as a therapy. Yogic practices have been scientifically proved to be effective in many health conditions. Meditation, Pranayama, and Asana practice is studied for its effects on genes and perhaps a treatment modality to fight genetic disorders.
Regular practice of pranayama relieves stress, enhances cognitive functions and improves lung function. One can easily find abundant information about effects of Pranayama on World Wide Web. As an Ayurvedic practitioner, I come across many queries about the practice of pranayama. Here I am trying to describe how one should practice as a beginner.
Respiration or breathing is an involuntary action governed by the respiratory center. But to a limited degree, one can control his breathing. At rest, a person uses only 10%-15% of its actual lung capacity as a result of quick and shallow breathing. Shallow breathing constraints lung expansion and diaphragm movement. Ideal pranayama requires up to 60%-70% of actual lung capacity.
Stretching the use of lung capacity from 10% to 60% at once can lower the effects or give rise to complications like dizziness or fainting. Here comes the rescue – the warming up of lungs.
Here I am suggesting some steps one should follow as a beginner to get the lungs ready for the pranayama. These are basically some breathing exercises and techniques to help you through your journey of Pranayama
- Qualities of breathing
Sit still in comfortable position and just be aware of your breathing. An ideal breathing should be smooth, slow and without any sounds. In today’s fast and furious world we are not used to sitting still and do nothing. This gives us the practice of sitting still and focusing the mind on breathing. Once you are familiar with this process proceed to next step.
- Deep breathing
Breathe in as deep as you can and breathe out slowly. The flow of breath should be smooth like the first step. Practice one breath at a time followed by normal breathing within your comfort zone. When you can practice deep breathing without gaps of normal breathing without feeling out of breath, go for the next step
- Abdominal breathing
Abdominal breathing allows the diaphragm to expand increasing the air intake in one breath. This technique allows one to hold breath for a longer time without feeling out of breath while doing pranayama. Keep your hands on your stomach. Move out your belly as you breathe in. as you breathe out your belly will move in.
- Controlled breathing
Pranayama requires one to inhale, exhale and hold breath for specific time periods or counts. Practice controlled inhaling and exhaling for specific counts. For example, inhale for 4 counts and exhale for 4 counts. One can change the number of counts as per his comfort. The key is to complete the inhalation/exhalation in specific counts without disrupting the smooth and steady flow of breath.
One should gradually increase the time of practice of above breath training from few minutes to about half an hour. Always take a break whenever you are out of breath.
When one can perform deep breathing with abdominal breathing for controlled counts continuously for at least 15 minutes he is ready for pranayama as yoga describes it.
These steps train your respiratory muscles for pranayama to allow you to control your breath better. Practicing these steps will improve your experience of pranayama practice for sure.
Besides warming up, these breathing techniques are beneficial in reducing stress, improvement in stamina, anxiety disorders and insomnia. So don`t hesitate to try them just before an interview or an exam to lose that anxiety.
Try these steps; share your experiences in comments.