Better Mental Health By Regulating The Breath - The Benefits of Pranayama.
Slowing our breathing can produce significant calming effects on our mind and body.
Pranayama - The Power of The Breath
Pranayama involves regulating your breath. If we measured the breath rate of everyone in the modem world, we would likely find that their breath rate is too rapid. A rapid breath rate means we create a build-up of oxygen in the bloodstream, which leads to an unbalanced PH levels in the blood and can respiratory alkalosis that can lead us to feel irritable, anxious, and even light-headed.
By slowing down the rate at which we exhale our breath, we raise the level of CO2 in the bloodstream, altering the PH back to normal levels and activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to calm us down and lower anxiety and stress in several ways.
For those of us who are looking for an easy way to help improve our mental wellbeing, pranayama may be the answer. What's more, we can tailor it to address a specific area of our mental wellbeing.
Pranayama activates the calmer nervous system.
One of the effects of pranayama is that it can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system can provoke the Vagus nerve to release acetylcholine, which lowers the heart rate. It slows the stress response by releasing hormones that relax the mind and body while inhibiting, or delaying, many of the high-energy functions of the body simultaneously.
Pranayama to feel calm
One study found that after just one yoga practice session, subjects had an increase in a neurotransmitter called GABA, also known as "nature's Xanax," as it helps to relax us and unwind us, especially when we're most anxious.
After a single yoga asana session, which consists of postures, pranayama, meditation, and chanting, subjects experienced a 27% increase in GABA levels.
How to do Pranayama?
Breathe deeply into your belly for a count of 4 seconds and hold for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly for a count of 6 seconds, repeat and gradually increase the count for the exhale to 8 as you begin to relax.
Pranayama To Boost Your Mood
Pranayama can also help elevate our mood. The slow breathing can stimulate our Vagus nerve, which is known to help reduce depressive symptoms and by carrying out deep breathing we are helping to oxygenate the brain too, helping us feel more invigorated and alert.
How to do it?
As with any breathwork, start by settling into a comfortable position and allowing your everyday breath to slow down and smooth out. Then count the length of your next inhalation. When you release your exhalation, match its length to that of the inhalation.
Continue in this fashion for a minute or so, balancing the length of the inhalations and exhalations. Then gradually—just once out of every three or four cycles—add another count to each inhalation and each exhalation until you reach a number that suits you. The yogis call this equal ratio breathing.
Pranayama to stimulate the brain
A 12-week study showed that it helped to improve our executive function including working memory, cognitive flexibility, and reasoning skills as well as improving our perceived level of stress. These benefits are thought to come from the stress lowering effects of pranayama and the increased o2 uptake to the brain.
Pranayama for better sleep
Slow, deep pranayama exercises have been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia when practiced regularly and consistently before bed and throughout the day. Pranayama is an excellent addition to a sleep meditation (yoga Nidra) practice.
A 2019 study showed that pranayama was useful for improving sleep quality because it slowed down the heart rate and a further 2019 study showed that it helped to reduce snoring and daytime sleepiness which suggests they were getting better quality sleep.