Pranayama is the sanskrit word that essentially means “breath control.” It comes from the combination of two words, “Prana,” which translates as “life force (breath)” and “ayama,” which means “to control or restrain,” or “to extend or draw out.”
We know that breath is an important part of the physical practice of yoga postures. In practicing yoga asanas, we are linking our breath and movement. You may have heard a yoga instructor say, “as long you’re breathing, you’re doing yoga,” which is true. Because additionally, pranayama is a branch of yoga unto itself. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is outlined as the fourth branch in the eight limbs of yoga.
As breath is life force, by controlling our breathing, we can calm and control our mind.
“Calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.” ~ Sutra 1.34, Book 1
In the sutras, Patanjali talks about using breath to attain higher states of awareness. But Hatha Yoga also talks about 8 types of pranayama which will make the body and mind healthy. In everyday life, pranayama exercises are good for things such as: calming anxiety, relieving tension, focusing the mind, and increasing body heat. Yoga Journal has put together a great reference article on all eight exercises.
Now that you know a little more about what pranayama is, and why it’s good for you, give some of the exercises a try! Maybe you’ll want to incorporate them as a part of your daily yoga or meditation routine. If you have any experiences you’d like to share, leave us a comment!