We’ve long been interested in pranayama, or the control of breath. So when we got the opportunity to get a short introduction to it from Mini Thapar Shastri, owner of Om Yoga Shala in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, we jumped.
Mini first trained in Hatha Yoga in Kerala 18 years ago. Successive learning from masters in Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai as well as across the world have helped her create a unique set of curriculums for all levels of practitioners, as well as workshops on food and nutrition.
Here, Mini tells us about pranayama in a series of questions and answers.
What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is a practice by which we become conscious of, and control our breath, rhythmically and easily. This helps us breathe better, balances the nervous system and helps make the glands in our brain less reactive and more present. Pranayama ‘reads’ the incoming air, transmits information back to the brain, helping us function better on multiple levels.
To do pranayama, one would need to be in a stable sitting position; able to access their diaphgram, and have practiced asanas previously.
Why should one do pranayama? What are the benefits?
Incorrect or irregular breathing is a reflection of various disturbances in the body and mind. Yogis also believe that chronically tight muscles and shallow breath are breeding grounds for disease and illness.
Pranayama helps extend the ability to expel air and slows down the breath to about 5-6 rounds per breath. Just slowing the breath, or becoming aware of it, triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous system, leading to benefits like a slower heart rate, better digestion, a relaxed body and more. Pranayama also works with the important Vagal Nerve that helps one retract from a stressful event or situation with ease.
Overall, it helps immunity, oxygenation of blood, detoxing, alleviates the tightness that keeps building, reduces health conditions triggered by stress, brings clarity to thought, increases positivity and helps one feel more productive.
Bonus: Pranayama also helps the mind and body to burn tamas (heaviness or sleepiness) and prepares us for meditation and longer success at pointed focus called Dharana.
What benefits does it have for the urbanites?
Pranayama is especially important for today’s lifestyles. It fosters the power to stay positive, calm and productive, and even has the potential to help save on expensive doctors’ bills. Stress related anxiety and panic attacks that come with pressure to’ fit in’ or perform at work environment get modified more realistic perspectives.
It gives a sense of inner knowingness, controls the confusing oscillations in the body and
is a panacea for all inner imbalances that modern day living and lifestyles can induce and extremely useful in handling life situations better.
How can I start pranayama at home, today, now? How do I create a space?
Pick a spot where you can sit comfortably. Switch your TV and phone off. Cross your legs, prop yourself against a wall or a cushion and put a timer on for 5 minutes, to start with. Practice every morning at breakfast, or during the evenings at sunset.
Start by just becoming increasingly conscious of the natural rhythm of your breath. Let yourself relax into its continuous, smooth ebb and flow.
Allow the respiratory muscles to relax and expand with the full release of breath.
Focus your mind on each and every inhalation and exhalation; which will help you relax further and release accumulated tension.
After a point, bring your breath into a pattern – 5 seconds inhale, 5 seconds hold, 5 seconds breathe out, pause for 1 second and repeat.
With eventual practice, increase your exhalation to 8 seconds, and you’ll find that your system starts to respond positively.
Your goal should be to set your timer to 10 minutes with daily practice.
What should my state of mind be before and after doing pranayama?
Be receptive to the grounding that pranayama can bring to you, and to the changes at a microscopic level in your body. Try to be silent, to allow the prana or intelligent flow of energy to re-distribute itself efficiently. Know that everything is a function of good prana flow within us; how you speak, think or even a foggy or uncontrolled mind are functions of prana. Pranayama is simply the management of all prana.
Can pranayama be done multiple times a day? Can it be done at work?
Yes, absolutely. Pranayama can be done 3 or 4 times a day, at work too – simply create a quiet space around you.
Can you share a simple pranayama exercise to do at a desk or in a traffic jam?
At a desk: Try 5-10 rounds of a simple pattern of breathing. It is not advisable to do full-fledged pranayama in a moving car – it is better to inhale and exhale slowly and be conscious of your breath.
Are there any other practices I can do that will compliment pranayama?
A jal-neti in the mornings can sensitize the nerves of the nasal passage to be more receptive to pranayama. It is advisable to learn the practice of neti from a yoga teacher or naturopath.
Are there any online/mobile app resources for pranayama?
Yes. The app, My Calm Beat, is fairly helpful for beginners.