“Breath is the king of the mind.”
We all know how to breathe. But what happens when we learn to consciously regulate our breath? The ancient wisdom of Pranayama holds secrets to a healthier, happier life.
Researchers have documented Pranayama’s numerous benefits. From insomnia to digestive problems, arthritis pain to high blood pressure, breath control can drastically improve the way your body functions.
Pranayama can also help to ease conditions like stress, fatigue and anxiety.
Just by incorporating a few simple breathing exercises into your daily routine, you can dispel disease, get a better night’s sleep and perform better at work.
Illnesses, aches and pains that we have come to accept as a normal part of our lives can all either be eased or healed.
Western science is catching on to the benefits of this ancient practice. New developments in cutting-edge technology are revealing staggering statistics that prove just how healing Pranayama can be.
The practice has been shown to reduce anxiety by 50%.
It can also decrease your resting heart rate by 20 bpm and lower blood pressure by up to 11%, significantly reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A study conducted by Hampton University researchers found that regular Pranayama exercises can even reduce BMI by up to 6%.
Rather than treating symptoms with expensive medication and surgery, Pranayama invites us to take a much easier, natural, cost-free path towards better health.
It’s no coincidence that the simplest Pranayama practice is also the most effective. Nasal breathing is something everyone and anyone can benefit from, no matter their lifestyle.
Whether you’re sitting at your desk, lying in bed, or even in the middle of a workout, taking a few moments to pay attention to your breathing can transform your day.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee, often referred to as ‘the doctor of the future’, is famous for his philosophy of progressive medicine.
His mission is to restore millions of people to optimal health by finding the root cause of disease.
“The majority of my patients don’t need a pill; they need a lifestyle prescription.”
More often than not, this root cause can be healed by simple, daily habits. One of these habits is nasal breathing.
In his weekly podcast, Dr Chatterjee interviews science journalist James Nestor on the incredible healing power of Pranayama.
“You can eat all the right foods, exercise as much as you want, but if you’re not breathing correctly, you’re never going to be healthy”, declares Nestor.
Pranayama teaches us that the correct way to breathe is, first and foremost, through the nose.
According to Nestor, 25 – 50% of the population habitually breathe through their mouths, denying their bodies and minds of essential nutrients.
“Breathing through the nose is an innate, natural function of the body. There are thousands of species on Earth breathing through their noses, except the human being.”
Pranayama and traditional Indian medicine have been telling us for years that we should breathe through our noses.
“This is a new science looking at a very old practice”, says Nestor. Western medicine now has the technology, resources and interest to study breathing and prove how it alters our minds and bodies.
You get 20% more oxygen through a nasal breath than you do through a mouth breath.
This oxygen is what our bodies survive on. Muscle regeneration, hormone regulation, skin detoxification, memory retention; oxygen supplies the energy for every single process in the body.
The nose is much more than two holes in your face. It is a complex organ.
Using it to its full capacity can jumpstart athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; and stop snoring, asthma and autoimmune disease.
After practising nasal breathing for just a few weeks, Nestor noticed changes.
“I felt calmer, had a lot more energy, had a lot fewer headaches and lost weight.”
It doesn’t take long to check that you’re breathing through your nose. Doing so, makes sure your body is getting the fuel it needs to perform at its best.
Watch Dr Chatterjee’s interview with James Nestor
People have been talking about, writing about and studying about the breath for millennia.
The earliest known conscious breathing practices date back to around 4,000 years ago, and there is a wealth of knowledge and detailed information.
Some books on Pranayama, such as B.K.S Iyengar’s ‘Light on Pranayama’ (1981) and M.J.N. Smith’s ‘An Illustrated Guide to Asana and Pranayama’ (2015), list over 300 complex practices.
However, their essence is the same. They all emphasise the importance of slow, deep, nasal breathing.
This is a practice that everyone can benefit from.
The average resting adult breathes around 12 – 16 times per minute. Reducing this rate can have profound effects on your mind and body.
Slowing the respiration rate down to an average of 6 breaths per minute does not just reduce your heart rate. It also lowers your blood pressure, muscle tension, stress hormones, sweat production and anxiety.
All of this immediately increases your sense of calm and mental clarity.
Dr Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School studies the effects of yoga and medicine on the body.
“There is a very direct relationship between breath rate, mood state, and autonomic nervous system state.”
The autonomic nervous system controls your fight-or-flight response. This is the automatic reaction your body has to an event that seems stressful or frightening.
When triggered, the body prepares itself for danger and enters into survival mode, ready to either fight or flee from the situation.
While this ancient survival mechanism is very valuable in times of physical danger, today it is often triggered unnecessarily by emails, news updates and phone notifications.
The science behind Pranayama reveals that by practising slow, nasal breathing we can actually override our nervous system.
Pranayama gradually teaches our bodies to stay relaxed and energised, only switching into survival mode when they absolutely need to.
Akshay, a 24-year-old Chemical Analyst who regularly practices meditation and conscious breathing, describes how Pranayama techniques help him to stay relaxed.
“Being mindful of my breath calms me down. It helps me to not get caught up in overthinking and feel more balanced in my daily life.”
Just spending three to four minutes each day practising slow breathing can be life-changing.
A study at Kings College London has demonstrated that slow breathing can improve people’s pain management.
Scientists suggest that such techniques can even help chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.
Air is food for our bodies. Pranayama teaches us how to consume this food in the right way so we can give ourselves the best nourishment.
You can adopt these breathing habits no matter your age, diet or fitness level.
“Once we take control of this unconscious ability to breathe, we can harness all of the power within that and use it to do some incredible things”, says Dr Chatterjee.
Slow, nasal breathing can have a transformative effect on your health and help you to reach the next rung of human potential.
Simple Pranayama Techniques
B.K.S Iyengar, one of the world’s most renowned yoga teachers, famously said: “Breath is the king of the mind.”
Our breathing mirrors our internal world as it reacts to our external environment. However, our minds can often get caught up in a whirlpool of thought and emotion.
This leaves our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing compromised.
“I use Pranayama when I am upset, overexcited, anxious or lost in thought,” says Archana.
“Becoming conscious of my breath helps me to empower my body and mind and regulate my emotions.”
Whether you’re feeling stressed, tired, lazy or low, practising some simple Pranayama techniques can help restore balance to your life.
The World Health Organization has classified stress as the hidden health epidemic of the 21st century. More and more people are finding themselves anxious, burnout and unable to relax.
A well-known strategy for dealing with stress is to take a deep breath.
However, Pranayama advises against taking big, forceful breaths. A calmer approach is much more effective in combatting stress.
Simply inhale gently through your nose for four seconds, then exhale in the same way for another four seconds.
This amplifies the body’s natural rhythms, improving brain wave activity, relaxing muscle tension and soothing digestion.
By restoring the body to its natural state, this technique creates both physical and mental stability.
Just repeating this balanced breathing technique, for a few minutes, can reduce feelings of anxiety or discomfort tremendously.
Along with stress often comes fatigue. Laziness, sluggishness, boredom, brain fog – these are all symptoms of an inactive sympathetic nervous system.
Pranayama has an easy technique for boosting your energy levels within the space of a few minutes.
Begin by taking a short, sharp exhale out of your nose. Your belly should draw in quickly with each exhale to help expel all the air from your lungs.
An inhale will naturally follow. This technique focuses on the rapid, shooting breaths of the exhale.
Repeating this for a few minutes triggers your body’s fight-or-flight response, raising blood circulation, metabolic rate, and energy levels.
This technique is great to practice in the morning if you’re feeling tired. You can also try it right before exercise or an important presentation, or even instead of reaching for a sugary snack.
Approximately a third of the general population has trouble sleeping.
Whether it’s chronic insomnia, disturbed sleeping patterns, or simply not being able to fall asleep, millions of people struggle with some form of sleep disorder.
Many of these cases are direct consequences of a weak connection between the body and mind. Pranayama aims to rebuild this bridge.
In our busy lives, our bodies often get stuck in overdrive. This simple breathing technique lets your body know that it’s time to start winding down for bed.
Inhale gently through your nose for four seconds, then exhale in the same way for eight seconds.
This 2:1 ratio slows the heart rate down and lowers blood pressure, promoting calm and relaxation throughout the body.
It lowers cortisol levels, discharging harmful toxins from the lungs while soothing the nervous system.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, unable to fall asleep, this technique is extremely useful.
Pranayama has endless benefits. It can calm, control, expand, settle or invigorate the body and mind, just by adjusting the way you inhale and exhale.
More and more people are adopting Pranayama techniques into their daily routine and reporting huge levels of success.
It is these tangible results that are getting noticed by the medical community. Western science is slowly discovering what Indian yogis have known for years.
Nonetheless, these discoveries are extremely important for the future of our public health.
Pranayama holds ancient knowledge that we can all use to become one step closer to better health.