Improve your breathing with Pranayama
It is estimated that we only use around 10-15% of our lung capacity!
Every Bikram class starts with a breathing exercise: pranayama deep breathing, “good for our lungs and respiratory system”. The word pranayama itself comes from two words: prana meaning life force or breath, and yama meaning control. So this first exercise is initiating us immediately to the idea of breath control (a constant in our yoga practice) and preparing our bodies and minds for the remainder of the class.
We have two sets of ten breaths in pranayama breathing, and each of the 20 breaths steadily increases the lungs’ elasticity. The point of this breathing exercise is to teach us how to access full lung capacity and stimulate blood circulation to the entire body thereby warming our bodies up for the postures ahead of us.
The benefits of Pranayama
- Pranayama expands the lungs to their full capacity. In this breathing exercise we are sending fresh oxygen to the deepest parts of the lungs helping to open the otherwise residual alveoli and generally helping the lungs to work more efficiently.
- Pranayama can help calm anxiety by slowing both breath and heart rate. Breathing exercises also function like meditation, drawing the focus to the breath and clearing our minds of racing thoughts.
- Pranayama stimulates blood circulation to the whole body bringing fresh oxygenated healing blood to every cell.
- The exhalation forces carbon dioxide and many other toxins out of the body facilitating detoxification of the internal organs.
- Pranayama is tremendously good for anyone who has any breathing difficulties as it improves and prevents respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
- Pranayama strengthens the abdominal muscles which are engaged for both the inhalation and exhalation. It also engages the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles of the ribs which are stretched on the inhale and contracted on the exhale.
- Pranayama allows us to relax the neck and shoulders and is a pretty relaxing exercise helping to reduce stress and anxiety and promoting mental relaxation and focus.
Pranayama breathing is teaching us how to untrain shallow chest breathing (which we are so used to) and tap into the bottom of the lungs (that we rarely get into!) but it is pretty challenging right?!
In the beginning your lungs will feel tight and quite small, which is perfectly normal, after more classes, you will find that your breath becomes deeper and fuller improving the elasticity of the lungs.