Question: Can pranayama really help one’s physical and mental health?

Swami Satchidananda: First of all, pranayama helps you to live! It helps you lead a full life. What you are living is not a complete life. You are only living 1/7th of your capacity but with pranayama you inhale 7 times more air and that means 7 times more oxygen and 7 times more vitality. The oxygen goes to the lungs, but the vital force goes all over the body. Imagine, 7 times more energy. You will never say, “Oh, I’m so tired.” Pranayama builds up your energy and vitality and that vitality can correct any problem in the body. Even medicines don’t really treat sickness by themselves. They increase the vitality and the vitality cures the body. So instead of getting a medicated vitality, practice pranayama and you will get natural vitality.

Another benefit of pranayama is that it calms the mind. When you are disturbed or agitated or have any problems with the mind, simply take a few slow deep breaths. It’s the best remedy for calming down. Pranayama takes care of the physical body and the other 4 bodies; breath, mental, intellectual, and bliss bodies. We live in all 5 bodies and they all need to be cleaned, just as you clean your clothing. Everything must be kept nice and tidy and there is no better way to clean than pranayama practice.

Pranayama also helps you to get rid of undesirable habits. Take smoking for example. You may be able to stop for a month or two but then it’s hard not to pick it up again. The nicotine stays in every cell of the body, so even after you stop smoking the nicotine that is already in the body wants more. Until that nicotine is completely eliminated, you will still have the craving. It is very difficult to stop unless you have super willpower. If you are really that strong you can say: “I don’t want it,” and just stop in one minute. How many have that willpower? The nicotine has to be eliminated and pranayama is the best remedy.

There have been programs where people addicted to drugs have been cured of their addiction by practicing pranayama. All the drugs that were remaining in the body even after they stopped using them, were removed through pranayama. The body got cleaned and so it didn’t want the drug any more. Pranayama is the best medicine because it burns out all the toxins. It really burns them out, so keep breathing. I know you are all breathing, but not enough; practice pranayama and breathe even more!