Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 48 - Pranayama and Health
Date: Tue Dec 16, 2003 11:04am
Q: Does doing pranayama have any practical health benefits? It seems like it would.
A: Yes. As with meditation, pranayama promotes purification in the nervous system. Being a physical process, it also has direct effects in the body that we can readily notice as our practice progresses. It has positive effects on the lungs, the brain, the digestive system, the heart, and the reproductive organs, just to name a few. It also steadies the mind and emotions. As prana flows increasingly in the body, a lustrous, palpable energy radiates from the skin, creating an “aura” of health and strength that can be beneficial to others.
But none of this comes overnight, or from irregular practice of pranayama. Neither does it come from “binge” practicing where nothing is practiced for days or weeks, and then excessive pranayama is done impulsively to try and take a big step forward all at once. It does not work like that. In this respect, pranayama is like any other kind of bodily culture. A little practice twice each day is far superior to a lot of practice days or weeks apart. The latter is not bodily culture at all, and can be hazardous to the health.
If you decided to become a long distance runner, would you begin by working out once a week, or whenever you felt like it, trying to run five or ten miles at a time right out of the box? If you did, your career in running would be short lived. For the best chance of success, you would start out running short distances every day, and gradually work up to your goal distance over a period of months. Physical culture requires regular, measured practice. This is how serious athletes train.
Spiritual practice is like athletics in that we are gradually training our body and nervous system to conduct and radiate a greatly increased level of pure bliss consciousness. This is a large undertaking that can be accomplished through many small, daily steps over a long period of time. The benefits of such an approach are cumulative, and noticeable along the way. Advanced yoga practices promote purification and balance deep in the nervous system, and some results will be noticed almost immediately after starting practice. One of the easily noticeable benefits is improving health. So, yes, pranayama continues the trend toward good health that we began when we started meditation.
It should be emphasized that pranayama is not a miracle cure that will instantly do away with the results of years of unhealthy living. In fact, if unbalanced living has seriously compromised the health, it may not be possible to undertake pranayama right away. A certain level of health, particularly of the respiratory system, is necessary to undertake pranayama. We never should overextend beyond our physical capability in pranayama. Our practice should be matched to the level of our capability. If we are weak, pranayama should be at a minimum, or not at all. If we are strong, we can do more. Always consider carefully before you commit to a level of pranayama practice. Meditation can be practiced by almost anyone in any health situation without putting an extra burden on the body. Pranayama is different. It requires a certain minimum level of health to be practiced safely and effectively. Be mindful of that and always gauge your practice of pranayama to your present physical condition so as not to put an undue burden on your body. For example, while meditation during sickness can be helpful, pranayama will not, especially if one is suffering from a respiratory illness. When the lungs are ailing, do not tax them. Neither would we go out and run a mile if we were sick.
If you combine good, old-fashioned common sense with your pranayama practice you will gain many benefits, including improved health.
The guru is in you.