Pranayama is a kind of breathing exercise that we do in a sitting position in yoga classes. Not all classes include pranayama but there is almost always a short session towards the end of my classes.
We sit comfortably for about 5-10 minutes counting the breath and manipulating the length of the inhale or the exhale. This can be done with a number of techniques that we learn in class.
Although in the Eastern tradition pranayama is considered a way to strengthen the life force within us, it can also be thought of as a form of meditation. The techniques we use in class often help to lengthen the breath which has all kinds of proven benefits for mental health.
Lengthened breaths help to switch off the ‘fight or flight’ response that is triggered in us by many aspects of modern life. This response increases our heart and breath-rate to respond to a perceived threat or emergency but decreases digestion and cellular repair. By reversing the process during pranayama, we can give the body time to digest and to repair itself.