Did you know the lungs work relentlessly, fetching oxygen from the inhaled air to the blood? Breathing is the only function that we do both voluntarily and involuntarily. What will happen if the lungs deteriorate and don’t work with full capacity? If the respiratory system takes a hit, it can spell disaster for your entire body.

Lung health is critical, even more so with the current pandemic that affects the respiratory tract. The critical cases of the coronavirus epidemic are those who have an impact on the respiratory system and the lungs. 

We take good care of our bodies by doing physical exercises, and many also practice meditation for mental health. However, how many of us do exercises to take care of the respiratory system? In this article, learn how Pranayama could be the right exercise to help you maximize your lung capacity.


Pranayama – The Science of Breathing

‘Prana’ means breath, the life-giving force and ‘Yama’ means control. In the Sanskrit language, the name for Oxygen is Prana-Vayu. The practice of Pranayama normally involves inhalation (called Puraka), retention (called Kumbhaka) and exhalation (called Rechaka).

In healthy people without chronic lung disease, even at maximum exercise intensity, we only use 70 percent of the possible lung capacity. With proper practice of breathing techniques in Pranayama, one can learn the right way of breathing and improve their lung capacity.

As a result, it can help keep respiratory diseases/infections at bay and improve the flow of oxygen to reach every cell of the body. Oxygen is an essential element needed by the body for various functions of the organs to stay healthy.


Learn the Right Way of Breathing Through Pranayama

About 90% of people breathe the wrong way. Most don’t use the nostril for breathing and opt for breathing through the mouth at times. This is a wrong practice and a healthy individual must always ensure to breathe through the nose. 

Breathing in and out through the nose facilitates the respiratory system to fetch the right temperature and consistency of oxygen your body requires. At the same time, it also aids in the expulsion of carbon dioxide appropriately.

Another important thing is the proper way of breathing. Often, many resort to shallow breathing or use their chest for the most part rather than the abdomen. 

When you inhale or breathe in, you should fill your stomach with air, and as you breathe out, release the air. Breathing in should make the lung to expand, diaphragm muscles to stretch down and stomach to come out. On the other hand, breathing out contracts the lung and the diaphragm muscles stretch upwards and stomach to go in.

Pranayama, which involves a rhythmic breathing pattern of inhaling and exhaling in this manner, helps to control your breathing the right way. As you consciously practice Pranayama, you will be able to carry it over even unconsciously and improve your lung reserve.


Benefits of Pranayama

Several studies validate the effectiveness of Pranayama. For instance, the findings of a trial of swimmers who practiced 30 minutes of Pranayama with routine physical exercises for five days a week exhibited enhanced lung capacities. It increased respiratory muscle endurance, and the number of strokes per breath, possibly, through better autonomic reactivity, oxygen diffusion, and reduced anxiety in competitive swimmers.

Here are some of the benefits of Pranayama:

  • Pranayama aids in expanding the lungs to their full capacity; that any other intensive exercise cannot otherwise do
  • It will send fresh oxygen to the deepest parts of the lungs helping to open the otherwise residual alveoli and generally helping the lungs to work more efficiently.
  • It also helps to draw the focus on your breath like meditation to rid your mind from anxieties and other negative feelings
  • Stimulates blood circulation fetching oxygenated blood to the whole body
  • Exhalation forces out carbon dioxide and other toxins enabling detoxification of the lungs
  • Strengthen the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm which are properly engaged for both inhalation and exhalation


Pranayama Breathing Techniques to Improve Lung Reserve

Basic Breathing

Start your Pranayama routine with a basic breathing routine:

  • Relax your shoulders and sit back in a comfortable position
  • Place one hand on your belly
  • Inhale through your nose, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does.
  • Breathe out while pressing on your abdomen. Exhale longer than your inhale, taking at least double the time
  • Repeat 4 to 5 times



Hands In and Out Breathing

Simple breathing exercise in which inhalation and exhalation take place with hands movement:

  • Bring both palms together
  • Now inhaling slowly spread your arms sideways horizontally
  • As you exhale, bring your arms in front of your chest with palms touching each other
  • Repeat 4 to 5 times


Hands Stretch Breathing

  • Start by interlocking your fingers and place them on the chest. Collapse and relax your shoulders
  • Slowly inhale and stretch your arms straight out in front of your body with palms facing outward at the shoulder level
  • While exhaling reverse the process and bring palms back to the chest again
  • The arms movement should synchronize with your breath rhythmically
  • Repeat 4 to 5 rounds
  • The same movement can be done by stretching the arms at the forehead level and above the head as well


Ankle Stretch Breathing

  • First, stand in an erect position
  • Gently open your eyes and fix your gaze on a point on the wall in front of you
  • Slowly place the palms on the front of your thighs
  • While inhaling, raise your hands and stretch the ankles
  • As you exhale, bring your hands and heels down   


Apart from these breathing techniques, there are other advanced Pranayama techniques such as Kapalbhati, Anulom-Vinulom, Sheetali, and Bhastrika Pranayama. If you have conditions such as hypertension or are pregnant, be cautious, and ask your physician if you can do these Pranayama techniques.


Breathing is a powerful means to de-stress, increase energy, and feel more balanced mentally and physically. However, most of us don’t give due importance. Breathe your way to good health with Pranayama!