Weight loss, better health, beautiful skin, more energy, less stress, relaxation and rejuvenation - and all this simply through the magic of breathing. These are only some of the benefits that a regular pranayama (breath work) practice promises. Sounds to good to be true, right? Well, it actually isn’t! Pranayama or yogic breathing has been scientifically proven to show all of the above mentioned effects if executed right and with a dedicated practice.
There are Tibetan yogis and spiritual masters that can go without food or water for a long period of time and still live. But no matter how spiritually advanced, everyone has to breathe to stay alive. Breath is the one thing that distinguishes a vital human being from a lifeless corpse. But to be healthy, radiant and have an optimal functioning system, it is not just important that we breathe but also how we breathe.
Breath is not just breath. We can breathe in many different ways. The quality of our breath (how shallow or deep it is, long or short) influences the quality of our lives. Have you ever noticed that you start breathing very short and fast when you are nervous or stuck in a threatening situation? And once the tension passes, your breath gets deep and long, bringing more oxygen into the body and helping it to relax again?
Pranayama can help us to control our breath and to consciously guide it to reduce stress and increase relaxation. But not only this, breath work has also been shown to boost immune function and support healthy weight loss.
Breathe yourself healthy and happy
Prana is the Sanskrit word for “life force“. It is the vital energy of prana that flows through our bodies, keeping us alive and healthy. When this life energy gets stuck, it results in blockages throughout the body, which eventually result in diseases and illness. Right breathing can help us to guide the breath through theses tensions and let the life energy flow again. The quality of our breath can thus have a tremendous influence on our overall health. By learning how to control and direct our breath, we are able to heal as well as protect our physical and mental health.
There are many different pranayama exercises in the yoga world, each with different benefits. But the underlying principle of all of them is that they guide our breath and increase the amount of oxygen we take in. More oxygen promotes blood purification, calming the mind, reducing stress and promoting concentration.
Stress reduction can be especially interesting when linking pranayama to immune health, as an increased amount of the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to lower immune function, resulting in more colds and transmitting infections easier. An effective breathing exercise for stress reduction and therefore also a better immune system is Nadi Shodana, also called alternate nostril breathing. If you are unfamiliar with this breathing exercise, we recommend you watch a video with instruction or visit one of our many facilitated breathwork classes.
Cleanse your system
Next to improving immune function by decreasing stress levels, pranayama also has many physical immune benefits.
Controlling the breath through different techniques stimulates our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is our natural cleansing agent. It is responsible for removing toxins and unwanted waste products, which slow down or attack our immune function, from our body.
The lymphatic system is a large network of lymphatic vessels (similar to the veins and capillaries of our circulatory system) that runs through our body. The vessels are connected to lymph nodes, where lymph (the lymph system’s fluid), toxins and waste are filtered.
Deep and controlled breathing, exercised in pranayama, helps to get the lymph fluid flow properly through our body. This results in an enhanced lymphatic function and an improved removal from toxins. Moreover, a healthy lymphatic system also fights viruses and bacteria already when entering the body. The result: Getting sick less often and increased energy levels.
Suppress your immune function
Another breathing technique that has been scientifically proven to suppress (!) immune function, is the Wim Hof Method. While not directly a yogic breathing technique, it originates from the Tibetan Tummo meditation. Within Wim Hof breathing, 30 cycles of fast and rhythmic breath are executed and repeated at least three times. This form of hyperventilation has been proven to increase the release of adrenaline and restrain immune function.
In an experiment, participants were injected with a bacterium causing heavy flu-like symptoms. Wim Hof practitioners showed almost no symptoms, as they are able to control their immune response. Their bodies guarded them against threatening germs.
All of this is possible by practicing regular breath work. If you want to convince yourself of the benefits of pranayama for immune function, come and explore it in one of our special classes. You don’t need any experience, just an open mindset.
Breathing exercises for a slimmer figure
As outlined, breath work can be an incredibly powerful physical and mental healing tool. But did you know that a regular pranayama practice also encourages weight loss and strengthens the muscles?
Gone are the days of sweating for hours on the treadmill, restricting our diets or using the latest magic potions that promise overnight weight loss. Forms of pranayama like Bhastrika (bellows breath) and Kapalabhati (skull shining breath) are a natural, healthy and beneficial way to lose weight when practiced regularly and properly.
Both breathing techniques strengthen our abdominal muscles through forced exhalation and generating heat in our body by squeezing blood through the digestive organs. This stimulates our digestive fire, helping to get rid of unnecessary waste products. Moreover, the active breathing boosts energy levels and pumps the oxygen through our organs. In turn, our metabolism is increased, assisting in a higher burning of calories which results in weight loss.
As you can see, pranayama has many great benefits for body, mind and soul. What reason would there be to not experience the benefits yourself? Don’t hesitate, jump on your mat or meditation pillow and try it out yourself!
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Written by Clara Malzer