The Science of Pranayama

As a little girl, I would visit my grandmother in Chandigarh where she would tell me all about the benefits of a daily pranayama (breathing) practice. Even as a kid, I questioned everything so when my grandma told me “This practice will help you live longer” my mind drew a big question-mark. 20 years later, I find myself digging into the science behind what my grandma said and being humbled.

While modern medicine is still catching up to alternative medicine, we have seen some significant clinical studies showing the effects & benefits of a daily pranayama practice. If you are also a skeptic, follow along because I am going to help you pair science with yoga.

Based on published clinical studies, Pranayama has the following effects:

1. It contributes to performance enhancement in athletes & runners

In another study analyzing runners (2), findings showed that runners who incorporate pranayama have enhanced ventilatory functions of lungs, as the techniques increase the oxygen uptake by the lungs.

2. It improves lung functions

In another study (7), a spirometer was used to measure vital capacity and maximal ventilatory volume for control subjects practicing anulom vilom and bhastrika pranayama. Results showed that a pranayama training program improves lung capacity and maximal ventilatory volume.

3. Improves exercise tolerance in patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

A pilot study successfully demonstrated that pranayama was associated with improved exercise tolerance in patients with COPD (1). Pranayama also resulted in small improvements in inspiratory capacity and air trapping.

This suggests, that while pranayama is not often prescribed or recommended to patients with respiratory diseases, it could benefit and aid in their recovery.

4. Regulates Blood pressure & heart rate

Results showed that in the pranayama practicing group, systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased significantly with a slight fall in heart rate. Including slow breathing in your daily routine is definitely recommended for people with high or low blood pressure.

5. Reduces inflammation in the body

Cytokines are pro-inflammatory markers found in human saliva. According to (9), salivary cytokines was detecting in response to yogic breathing. This essentially links pranayama to a decrease of inflammation and an improved immune response.

6. Reduces Stress

7. Improves working memory & Neural Processing

Another study shows MRI results from patients who underwent a 4-week pranayama routine . Results show the association of pranayama with the activity in part a the brain network linked to awareness, attention and emotional processing (10).

8. Helps with Anxiety

Reduced anxiety as an effect of pranayama have long been observed in various studies (10,11,12,13). Stress reduction observed after a yoga breathing training has been associated with the predominance of parasympathetic activity found after the practice. The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with our bodies rest & digest response. This opposes the sympathetic nervous system response, which is associated with our flight & fight response.

So there you have it!

Ready to start your pranayama practice? Download the pranayama guide on my website linked to learn the various techniques, instructions, and physical and mental benefits.

Happy breathing :)

Yoga instructor whose purpose is to spread the true meaning of Yoga & Ayurveda as discovered by Indian ancestors.