“A Little Superpower That I Know is There”: Exploring the Meaning and Role of Prāṇāyāma in the Wellbeing of Adults in Mid-life

Fern Eleanor Beauchamp 1 * , Hanna Kampman 2

AM J QUALITATIVE RES, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp. 113-146

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This study aimed to explore the meaning and role of prāṇāyāma in mid-life adults, defined as between 30 and 50 years old. Wellbeing research has dominated the positive psychology field, with many studies citing U-shaped declines in middle age. Ways to intervene and enhance wellbeing have also piqued researcher interest, some looking to ancient eastern traditions for valuable learnings. Yoga is one such tradition readily considered for its ability to enhance wellbeing, however, within positive psychology, there is a dearth of research exploring its central element, prāṇāyāma (breath control or extension). With the breath intimately linked to human experience and research in other arenas evidencing its impact on the nervous system and emotions, its power should not be underestimated. Six participants (females) were interviewed using semi-structured techniques, which were subsequently transcribed. Data were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Three master themes were identified: (1) the discovery phase, (2) unearthing the “Diamond in the centre,” and (3) integration, each with three subordinate themes, and delineated the journey participants embarked in discovering prāṇāyāma. Conclusions: Results demonstrated low wellbeing experienced before discovering prāṇāyāma, the potential obstacles to overcome to start practicing and the importance of experiencing it to understand its benefits. Greatest benefits were achieved by committing to the practice. The experience of prāṇāyāma was also described, portraying its potential for flow, reduce negative emotions and produce positive emotions. Subsequent wider-reaching benefits of prāṇāyāma were evident with enhanced embodied self-awareness, resilience, and interpersonal relationships. The consequential meaning of prāṇāyāma to these participants was also highlighted. Potential for prāṇāyāma to be a positive psychology intervention (PPI) and future research are discussed.

Keywords: prāṇāyāma, breathing, wellbeing, yoga, positive psychology interventions.