The word Pranayama is made up of two Sanskrit words, Prana and Ayama. Prana meaning life force or life energy and Ayama meaning expansion. In this case, the conjoined term pranayama takes on the meaning of “expansion of the life force”.
No one knows for sure the exact beginnings of Pranayama, but scholars believe it dates back at least to 2,500 BC, during the Indus Valley civilization. The practice involves various forms of breathing techniques, designed to regulate the central nervous system.
Notice how a baby breathes. Its belly rises and falls with each inhale and exhale. Babies instinctively know the proper method to breathe. This simple technique is called Diaphragmatic Breathing, or the Belly Breath. As adults, we have forgotten how to breathe. Too often our breath is shallow and from the chest. Deep belly breaths have a natural calming effect on our nervous system.
Breathing slow and deeply increases the capacity of the lungs, brings more oxygen into the body and stimulates the Vagus nerve, which stretches from the brain stem all the way down to the abdomen. Stimulating the Vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slows the heart rate and relieves stress.
There are many forms of Pranayama, but I will demonstrate three. Click the links:
Diaphragmatic Breathing (Belly Breath)
Here we breathe in slowly and deeply from the nostrils, down into the belly, feeling the belly expand on the inhale. Then observe the belly contract during the exhale. The chest remains still, while only the belly rises and falls.
Ujayi Breath (Victorious Breath or the Ocean Breath) (Included in the Belly Breath video)
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This is a process of closing one nostril while breathing in from the other. Close the other nostril, open the other and exhale through that other nostril and repeating the process