Hatha Yoga Pranayama
Prana is often referred to as the life-force in the body. Prana is also the word for breath. Pranayama works the microscopic level of our physiology containing cells and chromosomes. We have 150 trillion cells in our bodies, a complex system that has evolved over 14.5 billion years from our origins as single cell organisms.
It is important to note that Hatha Yoga pranayama is distinct from Raja Yoga pranayama as taught by Patanjali. The former is a physical yoga practice and the latter is a particular form of meditation. Both practices involve working with the breath, hence the similarity.
The Prana level of the body is made of five principle elements:
- Prana – oxygen
- Apana – enzymes, catalysts and hormones
- Samana – cells in the digestive system
- Udana – cells in the respiratory system
- Vyana – inside the cells, the Krebs cycle
Pranyama keep all these cells healthy leading and prevent problems arising in these systems. They can also be practiced therapeutically.
There are two kinds of breathing techniques: Aerobic (external) and Anaerobic (internal).
Aerobic breathing techniques involve slow inhalation and slow exhalation. They pump oxygen into the lungs and blood stream, opening up the bronchioles and providing oxygen to the outer layer of the cellular body. They increase the lung capacity and are beneficial for those suffering from respiratory problems such as asthma or for smokers. They are a preparation for anaerobic techniques which require a healthy lung capacity. Smokers or those with weak lungs should practice aerobic techniques for 2 to 3 months until their lung capacity increases, before moving onto anaerobic techniques.
Anaerobic breathing techniques such as Bastrika and Kapalbathi pump oxygen into the internal cellular structure, opening cell receptor blockages and multiplying the number of active mitochondria in the cells. The number of mitochondria vary according to which organ the cells belong. An ordinary cell contains between 200-300 mitochondria whereas each cell of our heart and brain contains over 1000. Mitochondria are cellular power houses because they generate most of the cell’s energy supply. Oxygen and glucose are carried into the cell and the mitochondria convert it into CO2 and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), i.e. energy. If the cell receptors have blockages they are unable to receive the oxygen and glucose into the cell, so rather then being converted into energy it gets stored as fat in the body. Many people suffer from obesity not because they over eat but because their cells are functioning inefficiently due to dormant mitochondria. Low oxygen supply to the cell increases the risk of developing cancer. Anaerobic breathing techniques remove blockages in the cell and increase the number of active mitochondria. For this reason they are highly energizing, a powerful tool for losing excess fat and a way of maintaining healthy cells. They are highly beneficial for the digestive and reproductive systems.
Anaerobic techniques take the oxygen from the blood and pump it into the cell by creating a pressure gradient. Therefore it is important to refuel the blood with oxygen by practicing aerobic techniques in between and after anaerobic breathing.