Yoga science of breathing is called Pranayama. Oxygen is the most vial nutrient to our body. It is essential for the integrity of the brain, nerves, glands and internal organs. We can do without food for weeks and without water for days, but without oxygen; we will die within a few minutes.
Where to Perform Pranayama Yoga?
Pranayama techniques are best practiced while sitting on the floor on a folded blanket.
Typically it done while seated in a Padmasana (Lotus pose), Sukhasana (Easy pose) or Siddhasana (Accomplished pose). But any other posture will do provided the back is kept erect from the base of the spine to the neck and perpendicular to the floor. Bad and poorly performed posture will lead to shallow breathing and low endurance.
One must empty the bladder and bowels before starting pranayama yoga.
Also do not worry about doing the asana perfectly. The important thing is to ensure that you feel comfortable. If you feel any kind of discomfort, it means you are over exerting yourself and that you should stop. Also, stay conscious of your body as you are doing the Pranayama.
When to Perform Pranayama?
Pranayama yoga must be performed in empty stomach.
The best time for practice is the early morning, preferably before sunrise when the pollution is at its lowest level, and the body and brain are still free.
However, if morning is unsuitable, pranayama may be practiced after sunset, when the air is cool and pleasant. The place suitable for all kinds of Yoga must be clean and calm.
11 Major Types of Pranayama with Instructions
Some major types of pranayama yoga are as follows. They have been marked from Easy to Advanced. If you are a beginner, consider starting with the easy ones :
- Nadi Sodhana (Easy)
- Shitali Pranayama (Easy)
- Ujjayi Pranayama (Intermediate)
- Kapalabhati Pranayama (Advanced)
- Digra Pranayama (Intermediate)
- Bhramari Pranayama (Easy)
- Udgeet pranayama (Easy)
- Bhastrika Pranayama (Intermediate)
- Anuloma & Viloma Pranayama (Intermediate)
- Agnisar Kriya (Advanced)
- Bahya Pranayama (Advanced)
Now let’s have a look at the detailed steps on how to perform each asana.
1. Nadi Sodhana
Following steps instruct on how to perform the Nadi Sodhana pranayama:
Step 1: Sit down in a comfortable place assuming a cross legged position.
Step 2: Now use your thumb (right hand) to close the right side of your nose. Inhale deeply using the left nostril.
Step 3: Now close the left nostril and exhale using the right one.
Step 4: In the same way, now with the left nostril still closed, inhale using the right nostril and exhale with the left one.
You can continue doing this exercise for around 10 – 15 times.
2. Shitali Pranayama
The word ‘Sheetal’ means cool in Sanskrit, and this pranayama technique will help you achieve the same. It helps you cool down your body.
Step 1: To perform Shitali pranayama, be seated in a comfortable position.
Step 2: Cross your legs and take five to six deep breaths to get yourself warmed up.
Step 3: Now open your mouth in a “o” shape and start to inhale through the mouth. As you do, the cool air will caress the tip of your tongue.
Step 4: When you exhale, do so with your nose.
This can be repeated five to ten times.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi means the ocean and this pranayama is about mimicking the oceanic sound or the sound of the waves.
Step 1: To do this, be seated in a comfortable position crossing your legs.
Step 2: Start to inhale and exhale deeply using your mouth.
Step 3: While doing this, constrict your throat as if something is choking it when you exhale and inhale the air. This will produce a sound similar to the ocean when you breath.
Step 4: Now close your mouth and start to breath using your nose, but maintain the same tone to your throat so you still continue to make the same sound as your breath.
You can repeat this prayanama breathing exercise for about ten to fifteen times.
4. Kapalabhati Pranayama
To perform the kapalabhati pranayama technique, sit in a comfortable position crossing your legs.
Step 1: Perform two to three deep inhales and exhales.
Step 2: Now inhale deeply and exhale forcefully drawing all the air out. Your belly should be drawn in, as you exhale.
Step 3: When you inhale, let it happen passively without you making any effort to inhale as the belly goes back to normal position.
Step 4: Exhale forcefully again and continue doing this for about 10 to 15 times.
Please note that this is an advanced technique and it is better to try this under supervision from a professional.
5. Dirga Pranayama – Three Part Breathing
The dirga pranayam is a bit different from other types as it involves lying down on your back instead of being in a seated position. This technique involves very deep inhalation and exhalation.
Step 1: To perform this panayama, lie down on your back and close your eyes.
Step 2: Breath normally and then slowly take deep breaths, relaxing your body.
Step 3: Now inhale a lot of air in slowly to fill your belly up. Your belly should rise up like a balloon. Hold this position for a few seconds and exhale drawing the belly inwards ensure there is no air left.
Step 4: In the second step, inhale deeply to fill up the belly. Inhale a bit more to fill up air in your rib cage. When you exhale, exhale air from your rib cage and then from your belly.
Step 5: In the third step, inhale deeply to fill up your belly and rib cage with air. Inhale a bit more to fill up your heart center (area around the heart) with air. When you exhale, exhale air from the heart center, then the rib cage and then the belly.
Repeat the whole process for five to six times.
6. Bhramari Pranayama
The bhramari Pranayama also known as the Bee Breathing technique involves breathing in deeply, covering your ears and making a humming sound as you exhale. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Cover your ears using your index fingers.
Step 2: Inhale deeply through your nose.
Step 3: Exhale through your nose while making a humming sound.
This is a great technique to become from stress, anxiety, frustration and anger.
7. Udgeet Pranayama
Udgeet is a deeply calming Pranayama technique that involves the chanting of OM mantra. Here are the steps to do this Pranayama.
Step 1: Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and take in a slow, deep breath through your nose.
Step 2: Exhale through your mouth while making an ‘OM’ sound. Draw out the ‘O’ sound for long and end with a short ‘EM’ sound. Try to keep the levels of the sound fairly consistent.
You can repeat this 8 to 10 times.
8. Bhastrika Pranayama
Here are the steps to do Bhastrika Pranayama:
Step 1: Sit comfortably and do a few slow inhales and exhales.
Step 2: Slowly inhale deeply and as you do this, make sure that your belly inflates.
Step 3: As you exhale slowly while gently pulling in your belly to push all the air out. keep the intensity of the exhale similar to the intensity of the inhale.
Do this 5 to 10 times. The intensity of your breathing can be as per your comfort.
9. Viloma Pranayama
VILOMA Pranayama involves paused breathing at regular intervals and can be divided into two stages. The first stage is called ‘paused inhalation’ and the second stage is called ‘paused exhalation’. Let’s look at these stages in detail:
Viloma Paused Inhalation:
Step 1: Lie down in a comfortable position and try to relax. Breath deeply, but normally.
Step 2: Now inhale for 2 to 3 seconds and pause. Hold your breath for two seconds and then restart inhalation. Pause inhalation again after 2 to seconds. Inhale again. Repeat this process until the lungs feel full of air
Step 3: Exhale now, slowly, till you feel empty of air.
Viloma Paused Exhalation: The paused exhalation is the exact opposite of the inhalation process. In this case, you inhale deeply and normally without interruption, but exhale with regular pauses.
10. Anuloma Pranayama
Just like Viloma, Anuloma is about alternate nostril breathing. In this case, the inhalation and exhalation is done with one nostril blocked and the other partially open. Some variations of the yoga are granular anuloma. This type of pranayama is particularly useful in cleansing the nasal passages and creating calmness within.
11. Agnisar Kriya
The Agnisar Kriya can help re-energize your digestive system. Here are the steps to do this Kriya:
Step 1: Sit comfortably with your spine erect and take a deep breath through your nose.
Step 2: Now exhale completely so you feel empty of air.
Step 3: With your lungs emptied, hold your breath and gently pull your belly in and out around 2 to 5 times.
Step 4: With your stomach pulled in, inhale and do a few regular inhales and exhales before doing another round.
You can repeat this 2 to 5 times.
12. Bhaya Pranayama
This is an advanced pranayama technique that involves using the Maha Bandha along with the breathing. A bandha is when you contract and hold certain muscles of the body and Maha Bandha involves contracting muscles in three areas (the perineum, chest and throat).
Step 1: Breathe in deeply.
Step 2: As you exhale, pull your stomach in so as you expel all the air out. Hold this position while doing the Maha Bandha for about 5 to 7 seconds before inhaling again.
Points to Remember While Practicing Pranayama
Here are a few important points your need to bear in mind while performing or before attempting to perform Pranayama.
1. It is important to understand that the base of yoga is relaxation. All the Asanas and breathing exercises involved in Pranayama should be performed in a mentally and physically relaxed state. If your mind is filled with thoughts, try to relax and let the breathing exercise take your concentration away from the thoughts.
2. It is important never to strain yourself while performing any of the exercises. It takes practice to perfect the control of your breath and it cannot be achieved in a day or two. It takes a few months of patient practice but the returns are worth the effort.
3. It is normal for people to get impatient while practicing Pranayama initially, this is just your body reacting to its old conditioning of irregular breathing. Be patient and continue your exercises in a relaxed manner. Slowly your mind will also relax and enter into the state of alert consciousness.
4. There should be no abrupt movements, no sharp exhalations or inhalations and neither should you feel uncomfortably suffocated. Yoga is none of these. There should be no discomfort while performing yoga. Initially it helps to perform yoga under the guidance of an experienced guru because it entails great care and precision. Once you have perfected the exercise you can perform on your own.
5. It is advisable to perform Pranayama in an empty stomach. Early in the mornings is preferably the best time. If you prefer doing Pranayama in the evenings, make sure to keep a gap of four to five hours depending on the type of meal you are eating. This is considering that heavier meals take more time to digest.
6. If you find it difficult to sit in Padmasana, you can sit in a pose that you feel comfortable in. You can also considering sitting on a chair if sitting in Asanas is difficult for you.
7. Pregnant women and women who have recently delivered should not do Pranayama.
8. People suffering from abdominal problems should not perform Pranayama.
9. People suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure, weakness and/or back-pain are advised to do inhalations and exhalations slowly without exerting pressure.
10. Make sure to sit in an erect pose (your spine must be straight) while performing pranayama. If you want, you can assume a Vayu mudra or Dhyan mudra.
11. It is best to take training from an expert before attempting to perform advanced Pranayama techniques like the Kapalbhati. The expert will be able to guide you on the duration and proper methodologies of performing these breathing exercises so you can benefit the maximum.
Understanding Pranayama – The Art of Breathing
What does pranayama mean? The word Pranayama is made up of two syllables – Prana and Ayama. Prana indicates the life source or the consciousness. The entire play of life is nothing but consciousness that is around us and within us. Everything in this universe is made up of one source, one energy and this is called the Prana. Ayama means control.
Hence Pranayama means the control of life energy. If you ask yourself what is the vital source of life energy for you? The answer would be “your breathing”. Your breath is as good as your life itself. When you inhale you take in the energy around you or the life source surrounding you.
You breathe in life energy. That’s the reason why your breath is so important. Pranayama as a practice in hatha yoga teaches you how to control your breathing. Through the control of your breathe you start controlling your self. This is the first step towards the attainment of higher consciousness.
Hazards of Irregular Breathing
Irregular breathing is not normal but is followed by almost everyone who has not been taught the value of their breath. Yoga points towards the fact that the reason for imbalance in our lives is due to irregular breathing. The various diseases which have inflicted the human race in the recent times have their roots founded in this pattern of irregular breathing. Most disorders whether it be mental or physical are instigated by the way your breath day in and day out. If you observe carefully there are two types of irregular breathing most frequently observed in yourself
1. Shallow breathing
2. Rapid breathing
Shallow breathing: Whenever you are feeling low or depressed you will find yourself breathing slowly and shallowly. Your intake of air would be less and it would be slow.
Rapid breathing: Usually when you are angry or in a fit of rage you don’t observe your breathing but if you do, it will be evident that it is very rapid in nature. You tend to take breaths in short gasps.
Both these patterns of breathing cause an imbalance of Prana in you. The life energy is not flowing smoothly and hence it manifests as a disorder outwardly seen as depression or anger. Anyone who practices yoga with discipline would attain control over his breath with practice. After that his/her breathing would rhythmic and hence the flow of life energy would be balanced. Such a person will never feel disturbed or succumb to destructive emotional states.
The functions of breathing as explained in yoga literature
Breathing is vital to our existence and it is a life giving force for each living organism. Yoga literature explains the various functions fulfilled by the air that we breathe-in as below:
Prana: The air circulates around the heart and provides oxygen which is vital to its functioning
Vyana: The air circulates around the body via the blood stream and distributes the life giving force of food
Apana: The air we breathe controls the functions of excretion.
Samana: The air we breathe stimulates the flow of gastric juices and hence it aids digestion.
Udana: The air maintains its presence in the thoracic cage and allows absorption of vital constituents.
Naga: Relieve abdominal pressure.
Krkara: Prevent foreign or harmful substance from entering into the nasal cavity or descending into the throat by inducing sneezing.
Dhanamjaya: Air is one constituent which remains in our body even after our death.
Devadutta: When you are lazy it provokes yawning and ensures absorption of oxygen to revitalize the body.
Imagine the harm you are causing your body organs and glands as well as your brain by practicing irregular breathing. Without your knowledge you are sabotaging the life force within you and this is the reason why most people in today’s generation are afflicted with diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart problems. There is so much stress prevalent that is almost palpable. The reason for all these disorders is the imbalance that has crept into our breathing.
5 Main Benefits of Pranayama
Practice of pranayama yoga has been reported to be beneficial in treating a range of stress related disorders, improving autonomic functions, relieving symptoms of asthma, stuttering and reducing signs of oxidative stress. Pranayama techniques are also effective for depression cure. Practice of prayanama develops a steady mind, strong will-power and sound judgment.
In addition regular pranayama helps extends life and enhance perception. In old age, the respiratory function decreases due to the contraction of the air cells of the lungs, which there by takes in less oxygen.
Prayanama will help to normalize their size and make the red corpuscles circulate in all parts of the body, infusing life and vigor throughout. Through regular practice even old people can delay the ageing process.
1. Pranayama Helps in the Improved functioning of your kidney and bowels
Yoga advocates that function of excretion as vital to the functioning of a healthy body. Breathing induces a massaging action on your internal organs including the kidney, bowel and diaphragm. The alternate inhale and exhale which is performed while breathing induces a contraction and expansion of these organs.
Pranayama practice ensures that the inhaling and exhaling is rhythmic. Moreover the exercises which entail holding your breath and exhaling slowly apply a definite pressure over these organs inducing a stimulating massage. The result would be stronger and more elastic muscles controlling the kidney and your bowel leading to better functioning of these organs.
2. Pranayama Helps in the Improved function of your liver
People who face digestive problems on a frequent basis tend to have a weak liver. The functioning of their pancreas and stomach would also be suboptimal. The various Pranayama exercises induce a massaging action upon all these organs relieving them of all the congestion improving the blood flow. There is an immediate improvement in the process of digestion once the liver is free of congestion. The stimulation of the pancreas also ensures that the digestive system functions optimally.
3. Pranayama Helps the Lungs Perform Better
The various Pranayama exercises induce the lungs to open as far as possible. Due to this expansion the lungs have an increased surface area to absorb oxygen and to relieve themselves of toxic gases. This ensures that you are free of all the breathing diseases such as asthama.
4. Improves the circulation of blood
Proper circulation of blood is vital to the proper function of a human body. Diseases such a thyroid problems, heart problems and prostate problems are usually due to improper circulation of blood to the endocrine glands. Pranayama exercises induce a rapid circulation of blood. Moreover the blood is rich in oxygen and reaches the nerve endings faster. The action of rhythmic breathing stimulates the nerves around the spinal column and the synaptic nerves inducing a rich blood flow to the brain inducing clearer thought.
5. Pranayama Aids the Endrocine Functioning
The endocrine glands work in cohesion with the nervous system to ensure that nerve impulse are transmitted quickly. In people who feel sluggish through out the day and have the tendency to sleep longer, there could well be a problem with their endocrine functioning. Pranayama stimulates the endocrine glands to ensure proper transmission of nerve impulses. People who practice Pranayama stay active through out the day and do not feel sluggish or fatigued.