Pranayama - What is Pranayama?, Types of Pranayama And Its Benefits

types of pranayama, benefits of pranayama, pranayama benefits, pranayama exercises, 7 important pranayama, Nadi Shodhanam, Ujjayi Pranayama, Bhastrika Pranayama, Kapalabhati, Sheetali Pranayama, Sheetakari Pranayama (Hissing Breath) , Bhramari pranayama
Pranayama, or breath control, is a powerful practice to add to your daily routine. It has a variety of benefits, physical, mental, and spiritual. Pranayama is the fourth stage in Patanjali’s 8 limb yoga system, to be practiced after Asana is mastered.

What is Pranayama?
Pranayama is generally understood as yogic breathing, breath control or control over vital energy. In Sanskrit, `Prana` means ‘vital energy’ or ‘life force’ and `ayama` means ‘extension or expansion’. As such, Pranayama literally means the ‘expansion of vital energy’.
Pranayama is a process in which inhalation and exhalation take place in a stable rhythm and in harmony, which leads the mind to a state of peace and tranquility. Based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is the fourth stage of Ashtanga Yoga and should be practiced after mastering Asana.

Why Practice Pranayama? 
The breath is the most vital force of the body as it affects the activities of every cell of the body and is closely linked with the performance of the brain. The practice of Pranayama, the correct breathing technique, helps manipulate our energies, reeducate our breathing process, and helps release tensions, which in turn develops a relaxed state of mind. It also balances our nervous system and encourages creative thinking. In addition, by increasing the amount of oxygen to our brain it improves mental clarity, alertness and physical well-being. If practiced along with Asanas, the benefits of Pranayama are more pronounced.

The Main Benefits of Practicing Pranayama
● Pranayama makes the body lighter 
● It is the only natural way to eliminate all carbon dioxide and other used up gases from the lungs
● Maintains good physical & mental health 
● Increases life span 
● Prepares one for higher yoga practices like concentration and meditation.

The Best Time For Pranayama Practice 
As recommended by yogi masters, the five following times of the day, according to the position of the sun, are beneficial for Pranayama practice: 
● Morning - 6am 
● Noon – 12pm 
● Evening – 6pm, 
● Midnight – 12am 
● Early morning – 4am. 
While it may be difficult for the modern man to practice according to the aforesaid time, efforts must still be made as regular practice of Pranayama is crucial to the maintenance of good physical and mental health.

The Three Components of Pranayama 
The Pranayamic breath involves three basic phases of breathing: inhalation, exhalation and retention:
● Puraka- it is the inhalation, controlled in a yogic way.
● Rechaka- it is the phase of exhalation, controlled in a yogic way.
● Kumbhaka- it is the phase of retention, controlled in a yogic way. 

When the breath is retained inside the body after inhalation, it is known as Abhyantara or Antara or Purna Kumbhaka. On the other hand, when the breath is retained outside the body after exhalation it is known as Bahya or Shunya Kumbhaka. Though the use of Bahya Kumbhaka is found sporadically in some practices of Pranayama, it is mainly the Abhyantara Kumbhaka which is used in the majority of Pranayamic practices, especially when they belong to the hatha yoga tradition.
Types of Pranayamas
1. Nadi Shodhanam
According to the great Rishi Gheranda, Nadi Shodhanam (also known as Nadi Suddhi, Anuloma Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing) should be practiced religiously over a certain period of time before practicing other Pranayamas. Nadi Suddhi is required because prior to the actual yogic practices one, has to prepare the base (physical body) by cleaning out all impurities and obstructions from the body. 

Technique: Sit in any steady and comfortable posture with the back straight, eyes closed and hands on knees. With the right thumb, close the right nostril and slowly inhale through the left without making any sound, for as long as is comfortable. After complete inhalation, close the left nostril with the ring and little fingers and exhale very slowly through the right nostril, taking a longer period of time. The duration of exhalation will be double that of inhalation. After complete exhalation, inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Practice this for 5 – 10 minutes. 

Benefits: This practice purifies the entire respiratory track in the human body as it is said in Yoga Shastra that Nadi Suddhi Pranayama is to be practiced for a few weeks before all other Pranayamas. If practiced with complete regularity and dedication, it can purify all the 72,000 nadis in the subtle body within three months.

2. Ujjayi Pranayama
The word Ujjayi may be interpreted as ‘controls or victory arising from a process of expansion’. This Pranayama enhances the ventilation of the lungs, removes phlegm, calms the nerves, and fills the whole body with vitality. Most techniques based on tantric yoga utilize this Pranayama. 

Technique: Inhalation and exhalation during Ujjayi is slow and deep, and take place with partial closure of the glottis. This produces a sobbing-like sound, but is even and continuous. During inhalation, the incoming air is felt on the roof of the palate and is accompanied by the sobbing sound `sa`. During exhalation, the outgoing air is felt on the roof of the palate and is accompanied by the aspirate sound `ha`. During inhalation, the abdominal muscles are kept slightly contracted, and during exhalation, the abdominal pressure is exerted until the breath is completely expelled.

Benefits: Tension and stress are associated with high blood pressure. Ujjayi Pranayama, by applying a slight pressure on these sinuses in the neck, causes them to react as though they have detected high blood pressure, which result in the heartbeat and blood pressure being reduced below normal. One becomes physically and mentally relaxed. This is the reason why Ujjayi is so important in many meditational practices. It induces overall relaxation, which is essential for success in meditation. 
People who suffer from insomnia will find it very useful. Those who suffer from high blood pressure will find that Ujjayi helps to reduce their blood pressure, even if only for a short period of time at first. 
In general, we can say that Ujjayi is helpful for all ailments that originate from nervousness or chronic stress.

3. Bhastrika Pranayama
The word Bhastrika means ‘bellows’. This practice is so called because air is drawn forcefully and quickly in and out of the lungs like the bellows of a village blacksmith. The blacksmith increases the flow of air into the fire in order to produce more heat. Bhastrika Pranayama can be said to do the same thing; it increases the flow of air into the body which produces inner heat, both gross and subtle. The inner fire of the mind-body is stoked. This heat burns up impurities, whether physical impurities such as toxins, pranic blockages, or mental neuroses. In this Pranayama, the abdominal muscles work like bellows. ‘Draw air in and out of your nostrils over and over again like blacksmith’s bellows.’ 

Technique: In this practice, the diaphragm and abdominal muscles are used as in Kapalabhati, but here both inhalation and exhalation are vigorous and forceful. Between seven to twenty one cycles should follow each other in quick succession. 
One should breathe in and out rapidly using only the abdomen. The movement of the chest should be minimized. The respiration must be performed by conscious and accentuated movement of the abdomen. 

Limitations: Bhastrika should not be practiced by people who suffer from: 
• High blood pressure 
• Any heart ailments 
• Hernia 
• Menstruation 
• Vertigo 

Benefits: Bhastrika Pranayama brings a wide range of benefits that span the whole spectrum of the human being: 
i. Opens up the air cells of the lungs. Most people do not breathe properly – their breathing tends to be shallow. The lungs are not fully utilized and exercised, thus the small air cells at the bottom of the lungs tend to stay permanently closed. Mucus builds up and acts as fertile soil for the growth of the germs and the disease. Also, when the air cells remain permanently closed, blood is not fully oxygenated. The parts of the lungs that are open allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, while the closed or blocked parts do not. The effect is decreased oxygen content in the blood. This results in decreased oxygenation of the body tissues and general weakness and bad breath. 
ii. Directly opens up closed air cells. Germs, mucus and stagnant air are eliminated from the lungs. All air cells are cleaned and rejuvenated from top to the bottom, which leads to an increased transfer of oxygen through the cell membranes and allows for better removal of waste carbon dioxide from the body. This results in better health of the whole body and increased vitality. 
iii. Bhastrika purifies the lungs. This makes it a very useful technique for combating ailments such as asthma, tuberculosis, pleurisy and bronchitis. 
iv. Improves digestion. By performing this Pranayama, a vigorous massage is given to the digestive system. This also leads to better all round health, removes physical impurities by increasing the metabolic rate and increasing blood circulation. Bhastrika is therefore a first rate technique for purifying the blood, improving skin complexion and removing boils, pimples, etc. 
v. Increases the flow of prana throughout the whole pranic body, which helps to induce good health and also to remove disease at more subtle levels. The pranic body is recharged.

4. Kapalabhati
According to an ancient text known as Gheranda Samhita, Kapalabhati is not a pranayama but a cleansing practice. 
Kapalabhati literally means ‘the practice that makes the forehead and entire face lustrous’. It helps clean the sinuses and all other respiratory passages, and stimulates the abdominal muscles and digestive organs. A sense of exhilaration is experienced with this practice. 
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: ‘Inhalation and exhalation should be done quickly like a blacksmith’s bellows. This is the very renowned practice of Kapalabhati which removes diseases caused by excessive mucus in the body’.

Limitations: Kapalabhati should not be done by those who suffer from ailments such as high blood pressure, vertigo, hernia and heart problems. To be avoided during menstruation. 

Benefits: The benefits are very similar to Bhastrika Pranayama. Briefly, the main benefits are as follows: 
i. Digestion: Massages and improves the functioning of the digestive system. 
ii. Brain: Clears the frontal lobe of the brain by speeding up blood flow. At a more subtle level, it also stimulates pranic flow in the same region.
iii. Respiration: Kapalabhati cleans out the lungs. It improves the elasticity of the lungs, making oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange more efficient. It should definitely be practiced by those who suffer from respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, tuberculosis etc. Those who suffer from asthma and emphysema will utilize forceful exhalation to expel air from the lungs. This tends to induce severe muscular tiredness. Kapalabhati, practiced at times other than during an attack, may be useful in strengthening respiratory muscles as well as improving the general tone of the lungs. 
iv. Alertness: Kapalabhati wakes up the mind. So, if you have a lot of mental work to complete, yet feel tired, we suggest that you energize the mind with a few rounds of Kapalabhati.

5. Sheetali Pranayama
The Sanskrit word ‘sheetali’ means ‘cooling’ or ‘relaxing’. This type of pranayama is so called because it cools the body and relaxes the mind. In English it is usually called ‘the cooling pranayama’ or ‘cooling breath’. 
This practice is briefly described in various Hatha Yoga Scriptures. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states: ‘Those who are wise should inhale through the mouth and then exhale through slowly, through the nose.’ 
No other practical details are given. Benefits are briefly mentioned in the following verse: ‘Sheetali Pranayama alleviates diseases of the spleen and other large organs of the body, and helps to remove fever, hunger, thirst and bilious problems. Furthermore, it helps to eradicate all poisons from the body’.

Technique: Sit in a comfortable meditative asana. Hold the back straight and the head upright, but without strain. During inhalation, the tongue has to be rolled as described below. 
Roll the tongue so that both sides curl upwards and inwards, with the edges almost meeting each other. Needless to say, the teeth should be separated. The end of the tongue should protrude outside the mouth, but without strain. The rolled tongue forms a tube through which one inhales. 
Close the eyes and relax the whole body, roll the tongue. Slowly inhale through the tube-like tongue. Breathe in deeply, but without strain. Then hold the breath. Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth. Do Jalandhara Bandha. 
After a few seconds, release Jalandhara Bandha. Exhale slowly through the nose. Be aware of the breath.

6. Sheetakari Pranayama (Hissing Breath) 
The sound ‘shee’ or ‘sheet’ is made during inhalation in this practice. The Sanskrit word kari means ‘that which produces’. Therefore sheetakari can be translated as ‘the pranayama that produces the sound shee’. In English the practice is called as ‘the Hissing Breath’. 
This practice is mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which states ‘Make the sound ’shee’ while breathing through the mouth. By doing this practice one will become like kamadeva (Cupid, the god of love)’. 

Shape of the mouth: Press the lower and upper teeth together. Separate the lips as much as is comfortable. Fold the tongue backwards into Khechari Mudra, so that the lower surface gently presses the upper palate. 

Technique: Sit in a comfortable posture. Close the eyes. Shape the mouth as described above. Breathe in slowly and deeply. At the end of inhalation close the mouth, keeping the tongue in Khechari Mudra. Hold the breath and do Jalandhara Bandha for a few seconds. Then release the bandha, and raise the head. Slowly breathe out through the nose.

7. Bhramari 
In Sanskrit, Bhramari means ‘bee’, and the sound produced during exhalation in this practice sounds like the humming of a bee. 

Technique: Sit in any steady and comfortable posture with back straight, eyes closed and hands on knees. Close both the ears with the thumbs, place both the index fingers on eyebrows and place the middle, ring and little fingers on both the eyes very gently. Inhale through both nostrils as much as you can, hold the breath for as long as is comfortable and then exhale through the nostrils very slowly, producing an ‘OM’ sound with the mouth closed. This sound will create a vibration inside the head and after a few days, it will descend to all the parts of the body. Repeat 10 – 15 times at a stretch. 

Benefits: This practice controls body heat and is beneficial for eye, ear, nose and throat diseases. Gaining success in Bhramari Kumbhaka will help the yoga student gain success in Samadhi.

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1 Comments

  1. Nice article... very much details about pranayama.
    good keep it up

    ReplyDelete