Literally, pranayama means the “expansion of life force”.
In practice, pranayama is a bridge between physical and mental, outer and inner, visible and invisible, unconscious and conscious. A complicated and precise practice, Pranayama should be learned from a teacher rather than from a book.
At Anvaya Yoga, the study of pranayama begins with the awareness of one’s own breath and the restoring of one’s natural breathing.
There are two types of breathing exercises: ones that result in hypoventilation (breathe less than normal) and ones that result in hyperventilation (breathe more than normal).
Strictly speaking, only when a breathing exercise results in hypoventilation can it be called pranayama, and this type of breathing exercises are characterized by prolonged inhalation or/and exhalation and in particular, breath retention, done after inhalation or/and exhalation.
Physiologically, hypoventilation increases carbon dioxide in the body, results in dilation of bronchi tubes and causes hemoglobin to release its oxygen via Bohr effect; it increases oxygenation in heart, brain, and cells, an important factor that contributes to good health.
Furthermore, hypoventilation results in a body more acidic due to the presence of increased CO2 in the form of carbonic acid. This decreased PH then triggers body’s attempt to rebalance itself with more alkalinity, characterized by the decrease of appetite or a natural craving for alkaline food such as fruits and vegetables rather than acidic forming food such as high protein and processed food.
Hypoventilation also calms the nervous system by triggering parasympathetic nervous system, which also improves digestive, reproductive functions as well as immune system. The calming effect of hypoventilation can be observed in the yogic state of meditation.
The best time to practice pranayama is in the morning before breakfast and preferably after the bowel movement.