Pranayama has numerous benefits, not only for physical & mental body but to grow spiritually also.
In simple words, pranayama is a part of yoga that comes in practice after Asana. Pranayama consists of breathing techniques to calm the body and mind. A beginner in pranayama can always try some simple breathing techniques to get started on their journey.
Being a doctor, In this article, I have described the scientifically proven benefits of pranayama. After reading these benefits, you would know how a skillfully practicing breath in pranayama helps you in getting perfect physical & mental health.
Physical Benefits of Pranayama
Having a physically fit body is a dream of everyone & with conscious breath regulation techniques of pranayama, you can achieve it easily.
In the physical body, Pranayama is a combination of Prana + Yama
First, understand the functioning of 5 Prana Vayus(which is explained in this article) within the human body, then only one can truly extend or control (Yama) breath cycle. It’s called Pranayama.
In many pieces of researches, pranayama’s effects on the physical body have been evaluated before and after the practice (yogic intervention) & results came out, is the following.
1. Pranayama Helps in Weight Loss
Pranayama aims to regulate the process of breathing. While breathing, abdominal muscles get activated.
When you modify the technique of breathing (in pranayama) and focus on certain parts of the body, energy is released along with increased sweating. This process burns calories as well as fat.
Belly fat is considered quite tough to lose and is the prime concern for many youngsters. Some individual pranayama like “Kapalbhati Pranayama (explained in this link)” focuses on the abdominal part. It tones the abdomen and results in fat reduction from the belly.
In this study, A total of 50 people were randomly selected and were declared medically fit for this study. They were divided into two groups of 25 each, one being the study group and the control group. The study group participated in the regular pranayama activities for 6 weeks.
Result: At the end of the study, the result showed that there was a significant decrease in the Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist-Hip ratio.
This study shows, people who are looking to lose weight can achieve it with the regular practice of pranayama.
2. Good For Skin Health
Pranayama benefits the skin also, do you know how?
Because Pranayama also comprises of the practice of holding the breath for a certain period of time (Kumbhaka or breath retention). When we hold the breath inside the body, it supplies oxygen to skin cells.
These breathing techniques increase the supply of oxygen which increases the blood thrush and improve the appearance of skin. They also detoxify the blood which often is considered as the etiology(causes of a disease) for various skin woes.
A review article 2 published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine explains various benefits of Pranayama including the skin.
The anti-oxidant, cellular and tissue effects of pranayama improve the skin health and prevent premature ageing e.g. facial lines, wrinkles, freckles, dark spots, etc.
3. Improves Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular system 3 in the humans consists of heart (pumping of blood) and a net of arteries, veins, & capillaries (blood carriers). This system is also known as the circulatory system.
Pranayama plays an important role in modifying the heart rate by stimulating cells of the body. It also increases oxygen intake.
Sukha Pranayama & Pranava Pranayama improve the circulation to the heart, decrease the heart rate and improves blood pressure.
Studies done on yogic breathing techniques has already proved its immediate effect on the hypertensive subjects. It shows a significant reduction in the heart rate, Systolic Blood Pressure, Pulse pressure and mean arterial pressure.
A study 4 has shown the effect of 3 months regular practice of slow breathing for 5 min/day maintaining 2:1 ratio of exhalation and inhalation.
Result: Significant reduction in blood pressure & heart rate while increased fingertip temperature.
Another study 5 involving 6 weeks of training in Pranayama along with medications to treat hypertension. Pranayama has reduced BP significantly compared to medication alone.
Pranayama is also beneficial in the treatment of people with irregular heartbeats. A study demonstrated the beneficial effects 6 of the practice of Pranayama in patients with Cardiac arrhythmia.
4. Pranayama Takes Care of The Lungs
Pranayama trains you to improve your expiratory power to enhance the airflow by decreasing resistance to the lungs. Simply pranayama practice is the best exercise for the human respiratory system.
It trains you to voluntarily keep a hold over your breath which in turn maintains the isometric contraction of respiratory muscles.
Pranayamas like Ujjayi, which require forceful respiration, increase respiratory endurance by acting on the respiratory muscles.
Pranayama causes increased expansion of the chest wall and lungs. It improved lung capacity and all lung functions. The respiratory apparatus is improved by increasing the efficiency of abdominal and diaphragmatic muscles.
With regular practice of Pranayama, inflation, and deflation of lungs reach to the fullest and start working at the maximum extent possible. Pranayama also brings positive changes in the respiratory pressure and cycle.
A research paper 7 based on a study conducted on 50 adults subject to know the effect of pranayama for over a period of 6 weeks suggested the following results.
Results: The dynamic parameters of the lung including Pulmonary function tests showed marked improvement. It strengthens the lung can be used to treat various lung diseases like asthma, allergic bronchitis, occupational diseases and recoveries after pneumonia and tuberculosis.
5. Good For Nasal Passages & Sinuses
Pranayama like alternate nostril breathing (anulom vilom) helps to clear the blockages in the nasal cavity. The regular practice of pranayama helps the nostrils to become free of allergies and enhance the filtering capacity towards the foreign element which causes inflammation.
Pranayama shows anti-inflammatory effects and mechanically cleans the sinus cavities also.
The inflammation in sinuses can cause throbbing headaches, nasal congestion, and running noses. Pranayama not only improves the ventilation but also acts on the proper drainage of the sinuses and in turn relieves the symptoms of sinusitis.
The pranayama, like Bhramari, creates humming sound, encourages air movement between the sinuses and nasal cavity by to and fro motion. It leads to clearing away the blocked Ostia. It prevents the foci of microbes and allergens.
Some studies suggest that pranayama relieves chronic sinusitis by reducing anxiety and psychological symptoms.
A paper 8 based on the study of the effects of nasal breathing exercise on nasal problems (allergic rhinitis) suggests that it is a simple and economical method to reduce the symptoms of inflammation of nose and sinuses.
6. Pranayama Improves Digestion
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are nowadays very common digestive disorders accompanied by gastritis and acidity. IBS and IBD are the diseases which are not treated completely in allopathy.
Here come the immense Benefits of Yoga. A consistent Yogic breathing technique is proved to be promising in the management of chronic digestive disorders.
There is a very famous saying:
There is a brain in the head and there is also a brain in the gut.
By stimulating the brain activity pranayama monitors the digestion and improves that too.
Diseases like diarrhea and hyperacidity can also be caused by stress and anxiety by affecting the gut-brain axis. Pranayama helps to calm the mind and provide relief from anxiety which in turn reduces these digestive issues.
A research paper 9 reflects that Pranayama has effects on the autonomic response which is helpful in treating disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
7. Pranayama Boost Immunity
Stress has a deteriorating effect on the immune system of the body. By inhibiting the stress-response, pranayama has shown enhancement in the function of the immune system.
Deep breathing exercises which focus on the abdomen with breath retention or kumbhaka, improves the defense mechanism of the body and boosts your immunity.
A systematic review 10 based on the effects of yoga and pranayama over the immune system reflects the benefits of pranayama.
Results: It showed that yogic breathing downregulates pro-inflammatory markers. It also has beneficial effects on cell-mediated and mucosal immunity. If practiced regularly and for a longer duration, it can help to achieve consistent effects on circulating markers.
Hence, it helps to boost immunity.
8. Pranayama Helps In Detoxification
Yogic exercises along with pranayama cleanse the body as well as mind. The process of exhalation not only is concerned with breathing out the air but waste from the body along with it. This is the body’s natural phenomenon to throw the poisons out of our system and make the body function properly and to its maximal.
Prana or breath can only flow freely if there is no or very little unwanted stuff in the system. So with consistent and guided practice of breathing modification, the toxins of the body are removed.
Benefits of Pranayama for Brain
The process of breathing creates a link between the physical body and the mind. Effects of yogic breathing techniques are quite different from the usual breathing, as it stimulates the unconscious mind also.
Pranayama in itself comes under physical activity but its effect is beyond physicality. Here are a few studies which show how pranayama working beneficial in improving brain power and mental health.
9. Improves Concentration
Pranayama like Nadi Shodhana & anulom Vilom has proved to regulate the autonomic response by strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system.
By increasing the oxygen supply to the brain, pranayama not only calms it but also makes it free of anxiety. It enables you to take charge of your thoughts. Thoughts no more control you, rather you become the master of your mind. As it nullifies the distractions, your concentration increases manifold.
In a research 12, 84 participants of age group 18-25 years were recruited for slow and fast pranayama to assess the effects of the same.
Results: It suggested that both types of pranayamas improve cognitive functions. The fast pranayama e.g kapalabhati, bhastrika and kukkuriya are good in enhancing the executive function of manipulation in auditory working memory. It also has beneficial effects on central neural processing and sensory-motor performance.
These functions of pranayama suggest it’s helpful in improving the concentration.
10. Helps to Treat Sleep Disorder
Yogic breathing works as a panacea for people suffering from insomnia. Along with insomnia, other sleep disorders are caused because of anxiety and depression of a person.
The people with insomnia and other sleep-related disorder, if start performing the routine yogic breathing along with asanas and meditation religiously get benefitted. They can get a sound sleep free of negative thoughts and nightmares.
This research 13 has shown how ageing is affecting sleep quality in older adults (age>59). Researchers told the main reason behind it is untreated insomnia and reduced quality of life (QoL).
Results: Yoga intervention results on trial group have shown yogic breathing is effective in improving the overall sleep quality (measured on different sleep scale). Yoga is also helpful in improving QoL.
11. Act as a Stress Reliever
The feeling of being depressed, anxious, fearful or low leads to various problems to your psychological behavior. You not only remain irritated or agitated but also lower your potential to work with full efficiency.
When you become able to hold the horses of your mind, you keep calm, become able to think wisely and take the correct decisions. It eventually makes you stress-free.
An article published 14 in the European Journal of pharmaceutical and medical research states the beneficial effects of pranayama to treat psychological disorders.
12. Increases Grey Matter Of Brain
Grey matter 15 is the component of the brain that consists of cells of the nervous system. It starts diminishes in older people and memory loss with time is one of the main cause of it.
Regular Pranayama is helpful in increasing the volume of grey matter. It improves the vision, thinking, memory and decision-making ability.
13. Makes Mind Well Oriented
Pranayama is helpful in bringing focus to the mainstream. The most common reason for failure or delay in the desired outcome, whether it is related to studies or work is distraction.
When your energy is not centralized and mind clutter with negativity and doubt, it becomes difficult to reach the destination effectively.
14. Effective For Brain Disorders
Pranayama helps to release the toxins not only from blood but also enhances the filtering capacity of the brain. It increases the passage of nanoparticles to the brain through the Blood-Brain Barrier and also filter the unwanted toxic materials which you often inhale in the polluted environment. It also filters the toxin which gets accumulated due to smoking.
One-sided yogic breathing like Surya bhedna pranayama from one nostril at a time has shown positive effects on that side of the brain. It also helps as an adjunct in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancer, etc.
Spiritual Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama, whether it’s the slow breathing or fast breathing, it helps you to grow spiritually. It calms your mind by muting the unnecessary chatter going at the back of your head. As pranayama increases the olfactory senses, the fragrance and smell in the environment also becomes a relieving factor and helps our mind and soul to rejuvenate.
All the physical and psychological benefits of yoga and pranayama eventually brighten the spiritual aspect of your life.
Yoga is the union of self to the higher self, i.e. the body and soul grow together for connecting you to the ultimate divinity of the Universe. Pranayama being an integral part of Yogic practice helps to manifest the same.
It enhances your clairvoyance and sixth sense. Your wisdom achieves its highest state and you start exhibiting the highest potential in decision making and actions.
Hence, pranayama is not only an exercise to regulate your Prana but also channelizes the positive effects it has on your overall body, mind, and behavior.
- Pranayam on obesity of affected individuals http://www.sportsjournal.in/download/31/1-1-47-419.pdf
- Yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0975947617303224
- Introduction to the Cardiovascular System https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/cardiovascular/
- Effect of slow breathing training on heart rate Researchgate
- Effect of pranayama on rate pressure product in mild hypertensives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137644/
- Effect of Pranayama (Breathing Exercise) on Arrhythmias in the Human Heart https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1550830711002837
- Short Term Effect of Pranayama
on the Lung Parameters https://www.jcdr.net/articles/PDF/1861/6%20-%203476.(A).pdf
- Nasal Breathing Exercise and its Effect on Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392338/
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Yoga as Remedial Therapy https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4438173/
- Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29429046
- Effects of Pranayama https://www.ijmrhs.com
- Effect of Fast and Slow Pranayama Practice on Cognitive Functions In Healthy Volunteers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939514/
- Yoga for improving sleep quality and quality of life for older adults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24755569
- Effects Of Yoga And Pranayam On Psychological Disorders https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24755569
- what is the grey matter? https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Grey-Matter.aspx
- Oxygen Consumption Changes With Yoga