Pranayama

October 15, 2020

By Lauren Fournier, PT, DPT

Fall is a great time to live in New England as we are seeing the beautiful change of colors and the weather is transitioning to cooler temperatures. That same transition can happen for us as well as we start to crave “comfort foods”, cozy blankets and warm layers. For me, I have begun my journey of becoming a yoga instructor, which will be a chance for me to enhance my practice and use these practices to help my patients find the great benefits of yoga to help enhance their recovery.

I had my first weekend of training, which was an experience for many reasons. The biggest was because it was 100% virtual via Zoom. It gave me a newfound respect for professionals (and now students) who work on a computer the entire day. I found this to be extremely difficult with all the screen time, but by breaking up the sessions with yoga practice and breathing or meditation work, it made the experience much better.

As I have discussed in previous newsletters, there are great benefits to practicing various breathing/mindfulness techniques. Pranayama is the art of controlling of the breath. Prana means “vital life force energy” and yama means “control”. Ayama means “expansion”.

Pranayama techniques balance and increase or expand one’s vital life force energy and teach one to control and direct their prana to be present in the moment. Yogis (teachers of yoga) use breathwork for health benefits to enhance inefficient breathing patterns because of bad posture or stress.

Each half of your body is controlled by the opposite hemisphere of your brain. The same is true of your nostrils. The evidence is mixed, but the implications for left (L) nostril breathing is thought to cause activation of the right brain for increased parasympathetic system activity which calms and relax us, while right (R) nostril breathing activates the left brain for increased sympathetic nervous system activity which alerts and energizes us. A pranayama technique used to calm the mind and body that involves focus and activation of both sides of the brain is “Nadi Shodhana”, which is Alternate Nostril Breath with Retention. Here’s how you can try it:

  • Sit comfortably. Bring the R hand into Vishnu Mudra (see figure: thumb to R nostril, ring and pinky fingers to L, index and middle finger folded and resting at base of thumb).
  • Exhale completely
  • Block the R nostril and inhale through L nostril
  • At top of inhale, close both nostrils and retain breath
  • Release R nostril and exhale
  • Block L nostril and inhale R
  • At top of inhale, close both nostrils and retain breath
  • Release L nostril and exhale
  • This completes 1 full cycle
  • Repeat 10-12 cycles

Modifications: Practice without breath retention to start.

Precautions: hypertension, if adverse reactions such as shaking of body, intense arm or leg pain occurs discontinue practice

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