Pranayama has always been an integral part of yoga. In today’s time many people refer to it as “breathing exercises”.
Ashtanga Yoga describes Pranayama as “Pranasya Ayamah Iti PranayamaH”.
Here we see that the word Pranayama is made up of two words- Prana and Ayama. Many people define Pranayama as “breath control” or “breath controlling exercises”, which is incorrect.
Prana means ‘the vital life force/energy or vital air’ and Ayamah means “extention or expansion”. Therefore, Pranayama is not breath control, but it means the extension or expansion of breath or the life force. This process helps in expanding one’s limitations. When a person expands one’s life force one gets attuned to the comic vibrations as well as the vibrations within oneself.
The theory of Pranayama is vast and quite complex. In this article, I have tried to keep it as simple as possible.
- Prana– Prana is where one inhales the breath to the chest region and allows mobility in the region.
- Apana– this force remains active in the lower abdominal region and it regulates urine, stool, and semen removal.
- Samana– this force remains in the abdominal region and aids in digestion and makes sure of proper abdominal functions.
- Udana– this force is responsible to mobilize energy from the base of the spinal cord to the brain. It also regulates any process that involves ingestion of food.
- Vyana– this force runs throughout the body and is responsible for the regulation of all bodily activities.
Amongst these, Prana and Apana are the most important as Prana is the upward flowing energy and Apana is downward flowing.
By practicing Pranayama, one attains balance in these two forces which results in a healthy body and mind. Not only that, but it also points out to the fact that the animals who breathe in a slow pace, live exceptionally long. For eg. It is observed that the turtle breathes about 4-5 times in a minute and we all know that it lives up to 200-400 of age.
Similarly, in humans, it is believed that if an individual breathes 15-16 times in a minute, one could live up to 100 years of age. In short, Pranayama slows down the aging process.
This is just a small glimpse into the theory.
Nowadays, many yoga centres incorporate Pranayama in their routine while some don’t as they focus more on the asanas and the physical practice of yoga. It is quite simple and easy to practice Pranayama at home.
Initially, the practitioner might feel a bit tired after doing Pranayama, but gradually they are at ease once they get attuned to the practice.
There are various advantages in practicing Pranayama at home as you can do it whenever you feel like and whenever you get time. After all, home is home and practicing Pranayama at home means you are in your comfort zone.
However, it is advisable that you have someone to instruct you initially and later you can easily practice Pranayama at home.
There are 15 types of Pranayama and each has their own benefits. The only common thread here is “deep breathing”. It is suggested that one should practice it in the morning but that’s not a compulsion; it is just that if done in the morning you are sure to feel fresh the whole day. Some people practice Pranayama along with chanting mantras. This has multiple benefits.
There are 3 stages to practicing Pranayama:
- Purak (Inhalation)
- Kumbhaka (restraining or holding of breath)
- Rechak (exhalation)
Listed below are the types of Pranayamas that are widely practiced.
This practice is also popularly known as ‘Alternate Nostril’ breathing.
You begin with sitting in a cross-legged position and maintain an erect spine. Pressed down your right nostril using your thumb and take a deep inhale through your left nostril. Hold that breath for a beat and then release your thumb from the right nostril and now press down your left nostril with any of your fingers as per your comfort. Exhale from your right nostril. Repeat the process by alternating between your nostrils.
Here, you can hold the breath for as long as you are comfortable with, but you must maintain that ratio throughout.
- Helps in purification of blood.
- Helps lower stress and anxiety levels.
- Helps improve all vital bodily functions.
- Helps in balancing the Ida and the Pingala which in-turn awakens the Shushumna.
Caution: The breathing must be smooth. Choppy breaths could indicate that something is not right. Make sure that you do not strain yourself and choose a ratio of breath with which you are comfortable. You can gradually increase.
In this practice, one needs to make a humming sound like that of a bee.
To begin with, close your ears with your thumb. Then close your eyes with you index and middle fingers. The last two fingers rest around the lips and chin areas, respectively.
Now, take a good deep inhale and chant OM as you exhale. You will experience a vibration produced by this Pranayama.
- Helps deal with insomnia if done just before bedtime.
- Reduces stress, anxiety and tensions of any form.
- Helps lower high blood pressure.
- Helps to stimulate parasympathetic nervous system.
- Helps in muscle relaxation.
Caution: People with ear infections should avoid practicing this form.
This is again a purification technique and it translates as Skull Purification.
While doing this, take a deep inhale through both nostrils.
Gently place your hand on your belly and exhale forcefully. Here, you can use the support of your hand to press the belly inward.
Then naturally inhale. Here, the focus is on exhalation. Inhalation is mostly passive. This process should be repeated in quick succession and should be done for at least a minute and if possible, more.
- Helps strengthen abdominal muscles and the diaphragm.
- Helps reduce anxiety and improves focus.
- Helps in weight loss.
- Known to combat PCOS.
- Helps reduce stress.
Caution: Pregnant women, people with high blood pressure and menstruating women should avoid practicing this form. If you feel light-headed during the practice, immediately stop.
This is also known as Bellows Breath. Here, one must operate the lungs as bellows.
To begin with, take a deep breath and then forcefully breathe out through the nose. Make sure that you don’t strain. Notice that, during inhalation your abdomen moves outward and the diaphragm descends and as you exhale; your abdomen is pulled in.
The movement is slightly exaggerated but however, do make sure that you don’t expand your chest or raise your shoulders. There should be no jerky movements in the body. As you continue, try and increase your speed as this is a fast-breathing exercise.
Once you complete a round, try alternate nostril breathing and relax. Both these together is one complete round.
- Improves focus and brings calmness to the mind.
- Improves metabolism.
- Improves the digestive system.
- Helps in balancing the doshas in the body.
- Helps in balancing the nervous system.
- Helps in dealing with depression.
- Better circulation of blood to the heart and lungs.
- Improves energy levels.
Caution: Since this is a dynamic practice, people with vertigo, high blood pressure, pregnant women, people suffering from epilepsy, recent surgery, headache, stroke etc should not attempt this for. Make sure that you do not strain yourself. Be relaxed and gradually increase your practice.
Ujjayi Pranayam ‘Ocean Breath”
This technique focuses on the throat and is supposed to be extremely beneficial for people with thyroid disorders. The vibrations that are produced during Ujjayi Pranayama is supposed to have a certain impact on the thyroid gland.
To practice this form, begin in a comfortable position. Now breathe in through your mouth. Constrict your throat just like you would when you try to fog the mirror. Close your mouth and continue breathing through your nose while maintaining the constriction of the throat. Do it as much as you can and then stop. This is one cycle. Try to attempt at least 5 -6 cycles.
This technique is known to recreate the sound of ocean waves.
- Helps insomnia.
- Improves heart conditions.
- Reduces mental tensions and improves clarity of thought.
- Helpful during labour.
- Helps in balancing of emotions.
- Helps one prepare for meditation.
Viloma Pranayama ‘Against the wave’
This pranayama also involves alternate breathing. This technique is divided into two parts/phases namely paused inhalation and paused exhalation.
Here is how to do,
Begin with laying down in a comfortable position. Inhale for 2-3 seconds and pause. Again, inhale for 2-3 seconds and pause again. Continue this till your lungs reach its maximum capacity and then exhale slowly. Repeat the cycle.
Lie down on the mat and make yourself comfortable. Now, inhale slowly and then exhale for 2-3 seconds and pause. Continue this until the lungs reach its maximum capacity. Then slowly, inhale and repeat the process. Do this for 5-7 minutes.
- Helps in having good control over breathing and flow of air.
- Helps prepare for deep breathing.
- Helps in increasing the breathing capacity.
This form is best practiced during summer. This form of pranayama regulates the temperature of the body.
To practice this form, sit in a comfortable position and breathe normally for a couple of breaths. Now roll your tongue in an ‘O’ shape and stick it out through pursed lips. Slowly inhale through your mouth, hold your breath, and practice Jalandhar Bandha (chin lock). Then exhale, through your nostrils. Repeat as many times as possible.
- Helps reduce acidity levels and heartburn.
- Helps in relaxation of muscles.
- Removes excess heat from the body.
- Helps in controlling hunger.
- Helps insomnia and improves sleep quality if practiced just before going to bed.
- Known to be good for balancing the endocrine system.
- Helps in purification of blood.
- Helps in controlling anger or aggressive behaviour.
Caution: People with low blood pressure issues should avoid practicing this form. Avoid if you suffer from cold, asthma, or any type of respiratory disorders.
In Sanskrit, moorcha means “loss of consciousness”. This form might be slightly difficult for beginners.
In tis form of Pranayama, one continuously exhales without any inhalation. This increases the carbon dioxide levels in the body which could render on unconscious. Once the body automatically begins inhaling in your sleep like state, you slowly regain consciousness.
- Helps turn one’s mind inwards.
- Helps control anger and neuroses.
- Has a calming effect on the mind.
- Helps increase pranic vibrations within the body and helps in pranic healing.
- Has positive effects on the Central Nervous System.
- Helps in increasing focus levels.
This form is done by chanting of the OM. To practice this form, take a deep breath and chant OM. This is mostly practised to get into a meditative state.
- Helps increase strength.
- Gives a nice shine to the face.
- Extremely effective for people with hypertension.
- Helps reduce acidity.
- Helps to deal with insomnia.
- Helps in dealing with anxiety, fears, guilt etc.
Surya Bhedana Pranayama
In yoga, the right nostril is called the Surya Nadi, which connects to the Pingala Nadi. Therefore, in this process one breathes only through the right nostril and exhales through the left. Make sure that you do not confuse this with alternate breathing. Every inhalation is through the right nostril only.
- Increases body temperature which helps in dealing with the Kapha dosha in the body.
- Helps in dealing with obesity.
- Improves energy levels.
- Helps to improve low blood pressure issues.
Chandra Bhedana Pranayama
This is exactly reverse of Surya Bhedana. The left nostril is also called the Chandra nadi and it connects to the Ida nadi. In this form of pranayama, you inhale only through the left nostril and exhale through the right. Every inhalation is through the left nostril only.
- Helps reduce body heat.
- Helps lower high blood pressure.
- Relieves stress and anxiety disorders.
- Might be useful during fever.
- Reduces heart burns due to acidity.
This is quite similar to Shitali Pranayama. The effects of both these forms are the same. However, in this form we connect our upper and lower teeth and then breathe.
- Helps improve digestion.
- It cools the body and helps the muscles and nerves to relax.
- Helps deal with depression.
- Improves digestion.
- Regulates body temperature.
- Great stress buster.
- Cools down the body during fever.
Caution: People with sensitive teeth should not attempt this form. Also, people with low blood pressure are strictly forbidden from attempting this form.
This form of Pranayama is slightly different. In Sanskrit, the term Plavini is derived from the word “plu” which means “to swim or cause to float”. Now, when Pranayama, that is breath, is added to this, it causes a floating like effect.
In this form, one breathes in air like one swallows water and the abdomen is gets bloated. This gives a feeling of being afloat on water surface.
Beginners should ideally practice this form in any sitting asanas or postures; like Padmasana, Vajrasasana etc. Once you have mastered the practice, you could perform it in any lying down postures like Shavasana, which gives you the maximum benefits.
For beginners, begin with getting into a seated posture where your head, neck and back is aligned in a straight line. Take few normal breaths and see to it that there is no strain in any part of your body. Get familiarized with your normal breathing.
Now, take one good deep breath filling your lungs and abdomen. To help you increase the inhalation, expand your chest so that you can take in more air. Do not put excessive pressure on your heart.
Once you have reached your maximum limit, go for a Jalandhara Bandha (the chin to chest lock). This will help you hold the air inside your abdomen depending on your capacity. This results in inflating all the organs in the abdominal region.
Slowly, release the Jalandhara Bandha and expel the air through your nostrils.
Repeat it as many times you can.
It is known that advanced yogis perform it in water. It is said that Yogi Sivananda could float on the water surface for up to 12 hours at a stretch.
- It is known to help a person to survive without food or water for days.
- Improves blood flow and also helps in flushing out toxins from the body.
- Aids in digestion and relieves constipation.
- Increases energy levels and is also known to increase life span.
Caution: people with hypertension should not attempt this form. Also, people who suffer from hernia should avoid practicing Plavini as it can exert pressure on it.
In conclusion, Pranayama is a great way to expand your life force by controlling your breathing patterns and your mind. Practicing Pranayama at home is totally feasible and comfortable and it hardly requires any space, or some fancy set up. All you need is your will to get on the mat and do your practice with utmost dedication to reap maximum benefits.