Regular Practice Of Pranayam And Surya Namaskar Increases Life-Span
“The body has to be looked after: one has to be very caring about the body and very loving to the body. And then, its very spontaneity purifies it, makes it holy.” —– Osho
Patanjali has explained “Pranayama” in Yoga Sutras, as the pause brought in the movement of inhalation and exhalation. The pause is a temporary suspension of breath. Pranayama has positive effects on spiritual and physical aspects of our body. Pranayama teaches us voluntary control of breathing. Many people consider pranayama as a breathing exercise.
The word pranayama is formed by two words i.e., prana and ayama. Prana means a subtle life force, which provides energy to different organs (including mind) and also controls many vital life processes (e.g., circulation, respiration, etc.). Ayama signifies the voluntary effect to control and direct this prana. Breathing is one of the vital activities governed by prana on a gross level. This is the only pranic activity available to us, which can be regulated voluntarily. Secondly, the breathing system (pranic activity) is linked with the nervous system (based of the mental activity) on one hand and the mind (consciousness) on the other. Yoga has taken best advantage of this situation, considering that the mind could be controlled effectively with the voluntary regulation over breathing. This is expected to manage the materialistic inclinations and instincts of chitta (superconsciousness).1
Pranayama has 3 phases, Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka. Puraka is the phase of inspiration, kumbhaka is the phase of pause and rechaka is the phase of expiration. All three phases must be spontaneous and smooth without any force or jerk. Kumbhaka is the phase which gives more time for exchange of gases i.e. carbon dioxide and oxygen between blood and lung airsacs. Normal respiration is approximately 17-20 times breathing in one minute. Inspiration takes approximately 1.5 seconds and expiration 3 seconds during normal conditions. Inspiration is an active process while expiration is a passive process. In pranayam we voluntarily control the breath and puraka or inspiration is usually voluntarily prolonged to 5 seconds and kumbhaka is done for 20 seconds and rechaka is practiced for 10 seconds. This is difficult for a beginner. One can gradually prolong these phases by regular practice. The ratio of puraka, kumbhaka and rechaka is kept at 1:4:2. It is not easy to reach at this stage fast but one must take time and increase the duration slowly and smoothly.
Posture for Pranayama:
One should sit erect on floor on any blanket or carpet making self comfortable without any strain on any part of body. Keep spine erect and shoulders high, not dropping forward down. Eyes are closed lightly normally. The flow of air should be controlled and smooth, without any jerks. This posture is also used in meditation that’s why called meditative posture.
During puraka and rechaka the mind is engaged in controlling flow of air but during kumbhaka mind is free and one has to control mind so as not to wander here and there therefore one has to make both breath and mind stand still to achieve peace and concentration. This control of mind is what pranayam aims at the slower, deeper and controlled breathing and still mind gives relaxation and peace.
By increasing the duration of all phases of pranayama i.e. puraka, kumbhaka and rechaka we allow more air to come in lungs and more and better exchanges of gases. The increased duration of kumbhaka improves the efficiency of lungs to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. All phases of pranayama are not merely a form of exercise but a controlled process with utmost concentration of mind.
Deep Abdominal Breathing is also a voluntary control of breathing and we advise people to do it regularly though there are some differences between pranayama and deep abdominal breathing. Deep abdominal breathing has most of the benefits of pranayama as this also has three phases i.e. inhalation, pause and exhalation and also in same proportion of 1:4:2.
Technique of Deep Abdominal Breathing:
When we are in stress we breathe from the chest and it is shallow breathing. When we breathe from the diaphragm (abdominal), it is deep breathing. Shallow or chest breathing doesn’t utilise 10-15 percent of lung capacity, so there is less oxygen in the blood, and also less vitality and freshness.
• Stand or sit or lie down.
• Inhale deeply from the diaphragm, pushing out the abdomen without moving your chest and count 1, 2, 3, 4 slowly in your mind while inhaling.
• Hold your breath by counting 1 to 16 in your mind.
• Exhale by pushing the abdomen in and not moving the chest and counting from 1 to 8 in your mind.
Repeat it five times.
Benefits of Pranayama
1. It relaxes body and mind.
2. It relieves from stress and anxiety
3. It makes your inner self peaceful and happy.
4. It improves blood circulation and thus reduces risks of heart diseases.
5. It improves cardio-pulmonary endurance.
6. It improves health of lungs and this prevents common lung diseases or at least reduces the risks.
7. It purifies whole body by purifying blood and respiratory system.
8. It improves the health of vital organs i.e. brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys by improving oxygen contents of blood.
9. As the thoughts affect your breathing similarly breathing can affect your thoughts. Pranayama improves memory and concentration.
10. Pranayama reduces the risks of hypertension.
11. Regular pranayama increases lifespan.
There is a saying in Sanskrit that breathing is life and you breathe well and you will live long on earth and same is the purpose of pranayama. Even some theories support that controlled and slow breathing gives longevity.2
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a yoga practice incorporating a sequence of gracefully linked asanas.3
Surya Namaskar is a form of yoga which combines yogic postures, meditation as well as exercise. If it is done slowly giving concentration to its each posture or asana it acts like meditation. Give 5-10 seconds to each asana and feel the stretch. It gives relaxation of muscles. If the pace of surya namaskar is increased then it gives the benefits of aerobic exercise that is cardiovascular workout.
Surya Namaskar has 12 postures. It can be done any time, in the morning or evening. The 12 asanas of surya namaskar are:
1. Pranamasana (Prayer pose)
2. Hastauttanasana (Raised arms pose)
3. Hasta Padasana (Hand to foot pose)
4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
5. Dandasana (Staff pose)
6. Ashtanga Namaskara (Salute with eight parts)
7. Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
8. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog pose)
9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Equestrian pose)
10. Hasta Padasana (Hand to foot pose)
11. Hastauttanasana (Raise arm pose)
12. Tadasana (Mountain pose)
Surya Namaskara should be done 12 times a day in one sitting. Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is praying homage to Sun. Sun is considered as soul and source of life on planet since prehistoric era. Surya Namaskara a complete exercise of all parts of body so it gives complete health to various parts of body. One can practice surya namaskara at any place but outdoor place such as lawn or varanda will be better as fresh air makes difference. It is best to do in the morning facing the rising sun.
It is better if you start doing surya namaskara 4 times only and gradually increase to 12. Sometimes if you start doing 12 times initially then you may be doing in hurry and may not do it in proper manner so the benefits will not be achieved.
While doing various asanas of surya namaskara we breath in and out according to stretching and flexing the body so lungs and cardiovascular system get oxygenated and blood remains fresh with increased vitality. The breathing in and out also removes carbondioxide along with other toxins. It is one of the best set of yoga poses for health benefits.
Many international celebrities do yoga and meditation to remain physically and mentally fit. Julia Roterts, film star is a dedicated yoga practitioner. Miley Cyrus practices yoga regularly. Russell Brand, Jennifer Aniston, Britney Spears, David Beckham, Madona, and Lady Gaga are few of the international celebrities who do regularly yoga and meditation.
Benefits of Surya Namaskar
1. It makes whole body, muscles and joints strong, smooth and flexible.
2. It is a good practice to lose weight. If you do 12 times surya namaskara with speed you will lose weight also along with toning of muscles and abdomen and back. The abdominal obesity gets reduced by regular practice of surya namaskara.
3. It gives relaxation to body and mind and reduces stress and anxiety. Surya Namaskara helps to bring mind, body and soul together and brings peace, happiness and positivity.
4. Surya Namaskar helps to get good sleep therefore is used as a cure for insomnia.
5. It keeps digestive system, pancreas and liver in good health.
6. By alternate compression and relaxation of abdominal muscles surya namaskar helps in relieving constipation and gaseous distension of abdomen.
7. It helps to increase lifespan by improving and maintaining the health of vital organs. Daily practice of surya namaskara enhances the health and vitality of all vital organs i.e. brain, heart, liver, lungs and kidneys and prolongs the life span as it provides physical and spiritual well-being. It reduces the speed of aging.
8. It helps to calm the mind and achieve happiness and peace.
9. Surya Namaskara improves the circulation so also improves the texture of skin, glow and softness. Regular practice of surya namaskara reduces the risk of wrinkles and maintain youthful skin. It also helps in hair loss prevention.
10. Regular practice of 12 sets of surya namaskara daily regularizes menstruation cycle in females.
11. Surya Namaskara improves memory, concentration and cognitive activities.
12. Regular practice of surya namaskara along with plant based balanced diet controls blood sugar and reduces the risk of diabetes.
My take home advise is to do regular pranayama and surya namaskara and lead a healthy, productive and active long life.
1. Gore M.M.: Anatomy and Physiology of Yogic Practices, NAB, 2005, p 163.
2. Brown, R.P. etal: Yoga breathing, medication and longevity. Ann N.Y. Aead Sci 2009, Aug 1172:54-62.
3. Carol Mitchell: Yoga on the Ball, Inner Traditions, 2003, p 48.
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