A Deep-dive into the Origins & Science Behind Pranayama

The Exhale
September 16, 2022
5 min read

Breathing is arguably the most crucial automatic process the body does, ensuring a near-perfect biological system maintains itself with almost complete efficiency. It’s little wonder then that we take this system for granted, given how fundamental it is to our being.

But, of course, life is complicated, and our bodies pick up many different habits and oddities along the way that affect our systems' efficiency. As a result, it’s vital we know how to maintain ourselves. For breathing, this can be a tricky concept to explain; however, there is one technique that is immensely popular and has been for near millennia — Pranayama.

In today’s blog, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the origins and science behind Pranayama and explain how this incredible technique can help you improve and maintain a healthier body.

Read on!

Oldschool Breathwork

Pranayama originates in the yogic practices of ancient India, with records of the practice dating thousands of years. From a spiritual perspective, Pranayama is associated with something described as the eight “limbs” of the body. Specifically, the fourth “limb” dictates the body's life force using the power of breathing.

As a result, it would be easier to describe Pranayama as more of an umbrella term that covers various shared techniques. Ultimately, however, the end goals of every Pranayama variation are the same:

  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Lower/stabilized blood pressure
  • Increased energy levels
  • Decreased feelings of stress

The Science Behind The Spiritualism

While Pranayama has its origins very heavily based on spiritual and metaphysical practices, there is a powerful core of scientifically-proven benefits that Pranayama affords regular users.

Pranayama breathing, much like diaphragmatic breathing, is especially effective at stimulating the vagus nerve – a cranial nerve that shares a profound relationship with the parasympathetic nervous system – allowing a regular practitioner to have more direct control over how their body behaves when stressed.

When the vagus nerve is stimulated through the breathing technique, signals are sent to the brain to disengage the fight-or-flight response that arises during instances of stress, allowing us to reduce our anxiety while relieving tension in the body.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

One of the most popular techniques under the Pranayama umbrella is the technique known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. This technique is fantastic for those curious about trying Pranayama and an effective method for reducing anxiety and reasserting a sense of control. The process is as follows:

  • Sit comfortably before relaxing, closing your eyes, and unclenching your jaw.
  • Place your left hand on your left knee, and lift your right hand toward your nose.
  • Exhale completely, and use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril, then close the left nostril with your fingers.
  • Pause.
  • Open the right nostril, and exhale through this side.
  • Inhale through the right nostril, then close it.
  • Pause.
  • Repeat the exhale/inhale cycle as explained for roughly 5 minutes.
  • Ensure you complete the practice by exhaling from your left nostril.

You can learn more about Pranayama through our 11-minute introductory class coached by yoga teacher, writer, podcaster, community organizer, and breathwork instructor – Tejal Patel! (she/her/hers). Simply download our app to learn more about the history, philosophy, and wisdom of Pranayama.

For more information regarding how to manage your breathing for a more effective lifestyle, visit our other blogs here at The Exhale to get the latest tips and tricks. For free guided breathing exercises that you can take anywhere, try out the Breathwrk app here and enjoy a FREE 7-day trial with access to everything we have to offer!

And remember: Breathe Better, Live Better.


The Exhale