Pranayama is the manipulation of the life force energy (or chi) using the breath. The idea is to achieve optimum health by manipulating the pranic rhythms of the body.
Pranayama has great health benefits. It also helps one reach higher states of self awareness. It is usually practiced before meditation. However, pranayama is considered a form of meditation in its own right. The practice of pranayama can help impact the mind in a way that is similar to meditation.
Speaking of prana, there are five types that govern the proper functioning of the body, namely prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana.
According to traditional yoga texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there are two of these five that are significant on a physical, day-to-day level. They are prana, which flows upward and apana, which flows downward. Therefore, the practice of pranayama is said to initiate balanced functioning of the body.
However, as far as practicing yoga for fitness, it is commonly thought that physical exertion alone can make you fit. For that matter, yoga these days tends to get taught purely like a physical fitness regime devoid of the finer aspects such as pranayama and deep relaxation.
Nevertheless, pranayama is a great fitness practice. Among its many benefits are detoxification (a key component in fitness and weight loss), increased lung capacity, deep relaxation, and high quality sleep and rest at night. It makes the practitioner energetic with increased stamina (therefore enabling one to gain more out of any physical fitness practice), increases blood circulation and increases metabolic activity too. The practice of pranayama can also increase agility and improve flexibility and balance, while toning the nerves and making one feel more grounded.
Some key pranayama that can be practiced regularly to this effect are:
Alternate nostril breathing
Bee humming breath
Pranayama can regulate the systems in the body such as blood pressure, sugar and temperature, for example. That contributes to feeling fit as well.
Some of these breathing techniques have wonderful effects if practiced during pregnancy. They can rejuvenate and relax the practitioner to a great extent, while relieving some of the common symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea and sleeplessness or swelling on the hands and feet.
A few minutes of pranayama a day can keep the doctor away. What is more, it is the quickest way to look fresh and beautiful!
These practices must be learn only under the guidance of qualified teacher.
Asana Pranayam Mudra Bandha by Swami Satynanda Saraswati
Prana, Pranayama, Pranvidya, By Swami Niranajananda Saraswati