Effects and benefits of Pranayama

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“Just as fire burns the impurities of the minerals from the rocks, so also internal impurities are removed by pranayama.” – Brhadyogi-yajnavalkya-smruti

“With the accomplishment of the practice of pranayama

one perceives effulgent light, becomes omniscient and attains longevity.” – Kumbhaka Padhati

From the physiological points of view the effects of pranayama may be described as follows; The practice of pranayama helps in the efficient functioning of different systems of the body.1. By inspiration, expiration and retention in pranayama there is a rise and fall of diaphragm and contraction and relaxation of the abdominal muscles which give accentuated and constant movement and massage to the bowels and the kidneys and help in removing congestion if there is any. The nerves and muscles of the bowels and the kidneys are toned up. The bowels and kidneys derive benefit not only during pranayama but even for the remaining part of the day. The function of elimination is carried on more effectively.

2. Healthy respiration depends on strong respiratory muscles and good elasticity of the lungs. Through pranayama the chest is expanded to its fullest extent several times and putting the lungs on the utmost stretch. Thus these organs are better trained to perform their work efficiently during the remaining part of the day.

3. The organs of digestion and absorption like the stomach, the pancreas and the liver, are all exercised in pranayama. This is done by gentle massage given to them by the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles. Congestion of liver is removed and unhealthy pancreas are corrected in their function. Gastric disorders are removed.

4. Yogic seers have looked upon pranayama as the one exercise that could make every life process healthy. Some were so enthusiastic in their optimism about the efficacy of pranayama that they ruled out other exercises for securing the health. Pranayama not only controls different physiological functions but is the control of life processes that vitalize the human organism.

5. There is a gentle massage to the heart during pranayama and helps circulatory system work satisfactorily.

6. During pranayama the diaphragm and lower abdominal muscles pull up the lower part of the spine as a whole.

7. During pranayama the venus blood from the brain is drained very thoroughly and fresh arterial blood is supplied to the brain on a larger scale. This condition is accentuated by introducing uddiyana bandha which enables to get the largest supply of rich arterial blood. This fact is responsible for the instantaneous refreshing results that we get from pranayama.


Scientific Observations

i) Heart rate was found significantly decreased during abhyantara kumbhaka –

ii) Kumbhaka performed immediately after kapalabhati brought effect on PQ interval upto 300ms. (Dostalek and Lepicoveka, 1983)

iii) EEG changes during bhastrika were found more pronounced than during kapalabhati. Development of chirhythm was observed during kumbhaka.

iv) In pranayama voluntary kumbhaka and extended expiration better utilizes O2 under lower ventilation and a specific effect of CO2 is possible. During extended expiration the level of the excitability of the organism is lower (Roitbak, 1960, tejskal, 1968 Dostalek, 1976). Therefore, relaxation is more intensive and full savasana is possible during and after expiration.

v) Suryabhedana pranayama provoked long trains of chi-waves in the left pre-rolandic and both rolandic areas and a 26Hz. Sinusoidal wave pattern in the right post rolandic area. In the occipital leads biphasic paroximal sharp waves occur contemporarily, alternating with large sinusoidal waves in the left pre-rolandie area and in the right post-rolandic area. Occasionally at the height of chi-wave activation in a 1-2 episode of waves in the theta band occurs in the pre-rolandic derivations attaining amplitudes of 1200 u.v. When trains of bi-phasic paroxysmal sharp waves (11 to 16Hz.) occur in the parieto-occipital derivation, post-rolandic alpha and pre-rolandic beta may be recorded at the same time. (Dostalek, Roldan, Lepicovska, 1980).

This excitatory effect rests upon influence of respiratory center (Dostalek, 1974, 1975) and upon rhythmical stimulation of viscera. During bhastrika its component kapalabhati stimulates rhymtically abdominal viscera and vegetative plexuses. It has been proved that rhythmic interoceptive stimulation acts very significantly upon the functional tone of the central nervous system (Verbonova, Nikolov, 1982).

Apart from the stimulation of heart in particular exercise in yoga by mechanical pressure directly, most effects should be realized indirectly via central nervous system.

vi) CO2 percentage in expired air was found to have significant relationship with the duration of one round in various ratios for puraka-recaka and puraka-kumbhaka-recaka.

vii) CO2 volume per unit of time proved to be maximum during pranayama for a round of 14 sees, and minimum during a round of 49 sees, with a ratio of 1:4:2 for puraka-kumbhaka-recaka. This indicates either CO2 retention or decrease in CO2 production.

viii) Inclusion of kumbhaka phase was seen to reduce CO2 elimination. (Swami Kuvalayananda, Yoga Mimamsa Vol. iv:2:95-102, 1930)

ix) Retention of breath (kumbhaka) seems to have very little influence on gaseous exchange even though it is highly advocated in different varieties of pranayama. (Swami Kuvalayananda, Yoga Mimamsa Vol. iv:4:267-289,1933)

x) Minute ventilation was found less during pranayamic breathing with puraka-kumbhaka-recaka phases for 5, 10, 10 sees. Respectively. Increased air-way resistance in pranyamic breathing was supposed to be responsible for it. (Bhole, M.V., Yoga Mimamsa Vol.xix:2&3:8-10, 1956)

xi) No increase in urinary acidity was noted after bhastrika pranayama done for 45 minutes. (Swarm Kuvalayananda, Y. M. Vol. vi: 1:9-20, 1956)

xii) Ten cycles each of anuloma-viloma and ujjayi interspersed with 50 recitation of OM (duration 40-45 secs.) resulted in increase in volume, acidity and total solids in urine but decrease in the specific gravity of urine. (Bhole, M.V, YM. Vol.xix: 1:38-46, 1977)

xiii) Breath holding time of 50 sees, was not affected by the relaxed, contracted or protracted conditions of abdominal wall. (Bhole, M.V, Y.M. Vol.xvli:3&4:27-32,1976)

xiv) Cardiac output was increased by 17% while heart rate decreased by 15 b/m during ujjayi breathing without kumbhaka. (Mestan J. and Bhole, M.V, Yoga. Mimamsa. Vol.xix:4:11-17, 1979)

xv) Increased duration of kumbhaka and recaka seem to increase absorption of O2 percentage and elimination of CO2 percentage in expired air (Karambelkar, RVDeshpande, R.R., and Bhole, M.V, Yoga.Mimamsa. Vol.xxi:3&4:1 -6, 1983)

xvi) Fairly long practice of ujjayi pranayama with the ratio of 8:32:16 sees, was found to decrease O2 consumption by 40 to 50 ml./min. (Karambelkar, RV Deshpande, R.R., and Bhole, M.V, Yoga. Mimamsa.Vol.xxi:3 & 4:7-13, 1983)

xvii) Using bahya kumbhaka in ujjayi and bhastrika pranayama decrease was noted in O2 consumption, CO2 output, minute ventilation and O2 content in the expired air during bhastrika. CO2 content of expired air increased during ujjayi while the parameters showed increase during bhastrika. CO2 content of expired air increased during ujjayi but decreased dunng bhastrika- (Karambelkar, RVDeshpande, R.R., and Bhole M.V, Yoga.Mimamsa. Vol.xxii:3&4:7-12, 1984)

xviii) The cycle of alternate congestion and decongestion of nasal mucosa of the right and left nostril exists in 85.5% population and can be changed with the help of Yoga Danda or crutch (Bhole, 1968) or lying on sides (Rao 1970).

xix) A significant relationship was shown between the nostril dominance on the right hand grip strength. (Moorthy et al., 1982)

xx) Breath holding reduces the nasal resistance and hyperventilation causes an increase in the congestion (Babatola, 1986)

xxi) Alternate cerebral hemispheric activity was found to correlate with the pattern of nasal airflow (Werntz, 1983) as well as spatial and verbal performance of the subjects (Klein, 1986)

xxii) The pattern of nostril breathing differs from individual to individual and from day to day (VPratap, 1972)

xxiii) An increase was shown in the airflow through the nostril on opposite side in the lateral recumbent position. (Rao and Potdar, 1970 and Cole and Height, 1986). Rao and Potdar (1970) postulate that this may be due to:

a. The stimulation of the brachial plexus which brings about reflex parasympathetic vasodilatation on the same side, and

b. Pressing of the shoulder which stimulates the medullar vasomotor center and brings about vasoconstriction on the opposite side.

xxiv) Edwin Funk (1980) confirmed a relationship between right nostril dominance and intake of food as described in svarasastra texts. He also observes the right nostril dominance associated with quiet and receptive mood and balanced flow of nostrils associated with inner meditative awareness.

Psychological Benefits

Pranayama is a technique for regulating one’s all emotional and mental states and even the way in which one behaves. Changes in the respiration induce changes in the rest of the autonomic nervous system and the physiological reaction of the autonomic nervous system and the physiological reaction is an essential component of emotionality. Pranayama controls the autonomic nervous system and this system regulates the secretion of adrenaline, thyroxin and other hormones of the body. These secretions of these hormones plays a prominent role in creating one’s emotional states. By learning to bring changes in the autonomic nervous system through pranayama, one can modify autonomic arousal and modulate subsequent levels of emotionality. The breath forms a bridge between the conscious and the unconscious. Emotions such as anger, depression and fear all have their characteristic patterns of irregular breathing.

Through pranayama one learns to consciously alter his breathing and thus his emotional state. One can attain a calm and alert state through smooth and even diaphragmatic breathing. This helps a person to become cognizant of feelings that have been held outside of awareness. Therapeutical Effects

The hathayogic texts like hathapradika and gheranda samhita describe the therapeutical benefits of different techniques of pranayama.

Thus, suryabhedana cleanses the frontal sinuses, destroys the disorders of vata and disease caused by worms (HP:II.50)

Ujjayi removes diseases from throat caused by phlegm and increases gastric fire (HP:II.52-53). It removes disorders of phlegm, flatulence, indigestion, rheumatism, consumption, cough, fever and enlarged spleen(Gh.S:V66-67).

sitkari overcomes hunger, thirst, sleep and removes sloth or idleness (HP:II.55-56)

sitali destroys diseases like glandular enlargements and disorders of the spleen and toxins (HP:II.58). It removes indigestion and disorders of bile and phlegm (Gh.S.V69)

bhastrika cures all the diseases of three humours and increases gastric fire (HP:II.65-6)

bhramari brings peace and tranquility (HP:II.68)

Thus it will be found from the traditional descriptions that the techniques of pranayama in general contribute to health, peace and feeling of well-being. Spiritual benefits

Pranayama induces altered states of consciousness. The practice of pranayama introduces high pressures, both in the central canal of the spinal cord and the ventricles of the brain. These pressures centrally stimulate the whole nervous system which helps the human consciousness to be internalized and super-conscious perceptions possible. Ghemnda samhita (v-57) sums up the results of pranayama as follows:

“By the practice of pranayama one gets the power of levitation and feeling of lightness, diseases are cured, kundalini is awakened and the state on manonmani (undisturbed state of consciousness) supervenes and finally the mind is filled with Bliss. A person who practices pranayama becomes happy.”

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