Pranayama: How to Maintain Health Through Breath Awareness


his article excerpt covers Yoga Sutra 1.43 and centers around the Sanksrit word: Pranayama.  Again, what you read below is an introduction to the Yoga Sutras and  a part of our broader series covering the Yoga Sutras for Beginners, which is 15 article excerpts in total. 

Each of the article excerpts within this series will give you a sneak peek into the wonderful work created by Yogi and author, Melissa Lavery, whose complete book, The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom is available at select distributors throughout the US as well as Amazon’s online bookstore.

All content excerpts are provided with permission by the publisher.

The book itself is organized into 3 parts and further divided into each of the 15 categories below:

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Relationships

  1. Shanti: How to Maintain Personal Peace and Power in Relationships
  2. Yama: How to Eliminate Suffering and Cultivate a Better Relationship with the World
  3. Niyama: How to Cultivate a Better Relationship with Yourself and Commit to Personal Self-Care
  4. Pratipaksa Bhavana: How to Navigate Conflicting World-views and Build Relationships with Anyone
  5. Samadhi: How the Inner Journey Toward Self Will Bring You Closer to the Divine Consciousness

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Health

  1. Asana: The Health Benefits of a Physical Practice (On and Off the Mat)
  2. Pranayama: How to Maintain Health Through Breath Awareness
  3. Samyama: How to Travel the Meditative Path to Health and Wellness
  4. Nidra: How to Improve Your Sleep Quality to Enhance Health and Wellness
  5. Sauca: How Cleanliness Paves the Path to Holistic Health

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Abundance

  1. Klesa: How to Eliminate Ego’s Control and Cultivate an Identity that Attracts Abundance
  2. Satya: How Authenticity Leads to Attracting Abundance
  3. Astreya: How to Practice Non-Stealing to Attract Wealth and Abundance
  4. Aparigraha: How the Practice of Non-Hoarding Can Benefit Your Wallet and Illumniate Your Path
  5. Sadhana: How Consistent Practice Creates a Strong Foundation for an Abundant Life

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom

Pranayama: How to Maintain Health Through Breath Awareness

Calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.

The brain and body cannot survive after three minutes of oxygen deprivation. Breathing oxygen is vital to our existence and the life force behind every living creature on planet Earth. But fueling our bodies with oxygen does more than keep us alive: Controlling the breath is the key to optimal health and wellness.

How does breathing and breath awareness impact our health? Many layers exist in this answer, but by living with breath awareness (and using the breath as a tool for wellness), you are supporting a healthy body, mind, and spirit. In Sanskrit, the word prāṇa means “breath” or “life force”. According to yogic teachings, prāṇa sustains life and without it, an organism dies.  

(Follow the link to learn more about the benefits of practicing pranayama in yoga)


  1. Prāṇa moves the energy of the body—blood, nerve impulses, lymph, etc.
  2. If we experience a disruption to our regular state (shock, stress, disease, etc.), that blockage creates irregular breathing patterns, which affect our physical state.
  3. With regular and controlled breathing, we can improve acute states of distress, as well as improve chronic dis-ease and maladaptive physical states. 


  1. The mind will focus on the breath and go where breath leads, which aids in healing and meditation.
  2. Relaxation of the mind can alter gene expression, promoting physical and mental wellness.
  3. Breathwork and awareness is essential to saṁyama, the journey inward (inner limbs of yoga).
  4. Focus of breath helps yoga practitioners to reach pratyāhāra—sensory deprivation.


  1. Breath or prāṇa helps to move energy and clear blockages in our subtle body—marma points (energy channels) and cakras (energy centers).
  2. Prāṇāyāma (regulation of breath) will calm the heart-mind and lead to inner peace.

By learning about the physical, mental, and emotional/spiritual benefits of breath awareness, you are working toward greater wholistic health and wellness. In regulating the breath and participating in breathing exercises, you can learn to use your life force to improve your health. This action is fundamental to yoga practice and positively affects all organisms.

What is Breath Awareness and How does It Impact Health?

To understand the importance of breath, in a yogic lifestyle, it is first important to understand the eight limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga:

  1. Yama: abstinence
  2. Niyama: observance
  3. Āsana: pose
  4. Prāṇāyāma: control of the breath
  5. Pratyāhāra: sense withdrawal
  6. Dhāraṇā: concentration
  7. Dhyāna: meditation
  8. Samādhi: absorption

Breath awareness is the key to all limbs and at the root of all practice. For simplicity, this chapter will focus on Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi. It is through practicing these limbs that one will nourish the body, mind, and spirit.

Breathing and Physical Health

Not only is breathing essential to living, but its quality is necessary to living well. First, let’s deconstruct the physical anatomical actions during breathing:

  1. The diaphragm (a muscle just below the lungs) and the intercostal muscles (group of muscles between the rib bones) are responsible for your breathing, and they allow the lungs to function.
  2. Upon inhalation (breath in), the diaphragm and intercostal muscles contract and pull down and away from the lungs, which provide more room for the lungs to expand and fill with air. 
  3. Upon exhalation (breath out), the diaphragm and intercostal muscles compress and curve into the lungs, which help the lungs to expel and push out the air. 

Breathing is an automatic process. In the brain, the respiratory center located at the brainstem controls breathing. Mostly, the medulla is responsible for sending the message from the spinal cord to the respiratory muscles to breathe in and out. Further, the pons and other chemical responses in the body regulate breathing, involuntarily, by monitoring oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body. 

Deep breathing increases oxygen levels and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is the body’s natural method of physiologically calming a person after the fight, flight, or freeze response:

  1. Regulates and decreases metabolism
  2. Decreases heart rate and blood pressure
  3. Increases nitric oxide levels (a vasodilator to expand blood vessels)
  4. Relaxes muscles

Physical Ailments Related to Breathing

When a person becomes stressed, frightened, or over-exerted (maybe through exercise), then the breath will shorten or even stop altogether. Have you ever noticed in a stressful situation that you were holding your breath? It isn’t until the situation is over that you may realize this phenomenon. The body works in amazing ways to prepare you to respond and survive. 

… (end of excerpt)

The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom

Wrapping Up

… to continue reading from this chapter of The Yogic Lifestyle: A Foundation for Freedom please visit and order from the book’s page on Again, we hope you found this valuable and wish you health and happiness along your journey. Namaste.

Caleb Sharbono is a writer, bio-hacker, wellness advocate, and yogi. Caleb, who grew up on a small Montana ranch, joined the Navy at 17 to study cryptology. He later graduated from the US Naval Academy with a Minor in Mandarin, a Bachelor's in General Engineering, and a Major in English Literature. Caleb's interests and career cover diverse industries and disciplines. Caleb lives in San Antonio and is a Certified Yoga Instructor. He is also studying Zen Buddhism, practicing Holistic Psychology, and working towards his 300-hour yoga teacher training.


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