Anyone who has had a heavy cold and trouble breathing will know how you become aware of every breath while you are suffering the symptoms of congestion, that include a heavy feeling in the chest and the discomfort of a blocked nose. For anyone like myself, who is an asthma suffer and had many episodes of difficulty in breathing, the importance of being able to fill the lungs with oxygen also has extra meaning.
One of the most important practices of yoga is Pranayama. Prana means ‘life energy’ or ‘life force’ and ‘yama’ means control. There are a huge range of pranayama yoga practices,these include practices that are designed to release physical tension from the body while others are designed to strengthen the lungs and enable to the lungs to be filled to capacity to increase the level of oxygen reaching the body.
Like all yoga techniques, becoming proficient at pranayama takes practice and usually a teacher will initially take you through exercises that increase your awareness of filling and emptying the lungs and avoiding shallow chest breathing, which in western society is a common problem.
Once you become aware of how to breath more deeply, other pranayama exercise can be gradually introduced that include breath retention and even filling different parts of the lungs in isolation.
Apart from the improvement that pranyama exercises give to the physical body, they can also calm the mind. Being able to take control of emotional responses is a valuable tool to have, whether you are preparing for an examination, about to give a speech to a large audience, or any other challenging situation you may find yourself in. I will post some information about how to perform Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing which balances the right and left sides of the brain) when I next get a few moments… I have found pranayama methods invaluable in many different aspects of daily life and I hope you will too.