Pranayama is a yogic discipline originating in ancient India. The practice is related to controlling your breath. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words: “Prana” meaning life force, and either “Ayama” or the negative form ayāma, meaning to extend or draw out.
Prana means energy- This energy has given rise to the entire external universe. Our gross body is the creation of this energy.
Ancient sages and seers called this energy as prana-the cosmic energy. As the sages delved deeper, their understanding brought them to the conclusion that this energy is responsible for the creation and maintenance of not only every living being but also all inanimate objects. The science of pranayama was developed on the basis of this fundamental principle.
Pranayama entails the enhancement of prana energy. This is available exclusively in India. We find its relevance in ancient China wherein the prana energy is known as “chi”. The science of acupressure and acupuncture are based on this energy.
Prana operates on multilevel. It can be interpreted in many ways-from the breath to the energy of consciousness itself. Prana is considered the basic life force. Sometimes, its the prime form of all energy, working on the level of mind and body.
On the galactic level, there are two basic aspects of Prana.
- The unmanifest aspect of prana, which is the energy of pure consciousness that transcends all creations.
- Manifest of prana is the force of creation itself.
Prana arises from the quality of rajas which is the active force of nature. Nature herself consists of three Gunas such as Sattva or purity, which in turn gives rise to mind. Rajas or movement –which gives rise to prana, and Tama or inertia that, gives rise to the body.
Types of Prana and Pranamaya
- Prana: The forward moving air which moves inward. It governs activities like eating food, drinking water, inhalation, etc. Due to its propulsive nature, it sets things in motion and guides them also. It is the basic energy that drives us in life.
- Apana: Meaning “air that moves way”. This flows downward and outwards. It helps to regulate and functioning of all body parts and organs situated below the umbilicus. Organs are gall bladder, liver, small and large intestine. In addition to this, it also regulates the functioning of the male and female reproductive organs.
- Udana: Meaning “upward moving air” which regulates body portion above the throat region. It is related to the functioning of eyes, ears, nose, tongue (speech as well as taste). It is our main positive energy in life to manifest our overall growth
- Samana: means “balancing air” which moves from periphery to center, through churning and discerning action. It operates in the middle portion of the body. To be specific it maintains a balance between prana and apana. Mainly aids in digestion.
- Vyana: means “outward moving air” which moves from center to the periphery. It governs circulation on all levels moving nutrients, oxygen throughout the body. It also keeps our emotions and thoughts circulating in the mind thereby imparting movement and providing strength.
In this article will try to give an idea of the following Pranayama Types:
- Bhastrika Pranayama
- Kapalbhati Pranayama
- Anulom Vilom
- Bhramari Pranayama
- Ujjayi Pranayam
- Surya Bhedana Pranayama
- Sheetali Pranayama
- Sheetkari Pranayama
Types of Pranayamas
Let me explain the pranayama techniques and benefits related to them
BHASTRIKA Pranayam– the bellows breath
Sit in Padmasana. Close the right nostril. Forcefully and rapidly breathe from left nostril twenty times. Do the same on the right side twenty times. This is one round. Practice 3 to 5 rounds in summer and 5-7 times in winter.
Benefit: This Pranayama activates and invigorates the liver, spleen, pancreas and abdominal muscles, improving digestion and draining sinuses. It removes tri doshas. It speeds up the flow of Prana energy in the body-filling the mind with peace and joy. Influences the entire nervous system.
persons with weak constitutions/poor lung capacity/ eye or ear complaints /high blood pressure are to avoid.
KAPALBHATI Pranayam– shining forehead breath
This pranayama involves inhaling deeply, contracting the abdominal muscles and exhaling through both the nostrils forcing the air out. 20 such rapid breaths constitute one round.
Benefit: Improves blood circulation, increases oxygenation, strengthens the lungs, stimulates the digestive organs, tones the abdominal muscles, belly fat loss, etc.
Not recommended by persons with blood pressure, respiratory disorders, asthma, hernias, gastric ulcers, and pregnant women
ANULOM VILOM– alternate nostril breathing
Sit in a straight comfortable relaxed posture, close your eyes, and place the right thumb on the right nostril, 4th and little finger on the left. Closing the right nostril with the thumb inhale through the left nostril and close the left with the 4th and little fingers retaining the breath. While you Lift the thumb and exhale through the right nostril, next do the exercise while inhaling through the right nostril. This completes one round. Continue for 2 minutes.
This pranayama cleans and clears the nasal passages, increases oxygenation, balances the prana in the body, improves focus and contractions, calms the mind and regulates sleep-wake cycles.
Bhramari Pranayama-Bhramar means a big black bee
Close eyes, ears, and mouth with “index-middle”, thumbs and ‘ring-little’ fingers respectively. Take a deep breathe and exhale with a soft humming sound like the bees.
This helps to improve concentration and is also helpful in cases of insomnia,
Sit in an appropriate posture -Padmasana, Sahajasana. Place hands on the knees forming the Gyana mudra- spine erect.
Close your eyes, delve inwards and bring the awareness to the region of the throat, perceiving the passing breath. While gently constricting the throat, take steady, slow and deep breaths from both nostrils. The inhaled breath will touch the palate and the upper part of the throat. At this time you will hear a gentle hissing sound. This process of inhalation is called Puraka.
Make sure that the inhaled breath completely fills the lungs with air. Hold it in for 2 -3 seconds. This holding of breath is called Antarkumbhaka. Now, exhale slowly, gently emptying the lungs completely. The exhaled breath will touch the upper part of the throat. In this case, there will a gentle humming sound like”Hmmm”. The process of exhalation is called Rechaka. Hold the breath at this stage for 2 seconds before stating with puraka again.
This completes one cycle. Depending on an individuals capacity this Ujjayi pranayama can be doing for 5 to 10 minutes. One can perform this in day or night as per their choice.
Benefit: This strengthens the lungs. It also balances the lymphatic system.
SURYA BHEDANA Pranayama:
In this pranayama, the breath is taken in through the right nostril. Then the breath is held in for some time and finally exhaled from the left nostril.
Sit in a proper position with the spine erect. Keep the left wrist on the left knee and form the Nasagra mudra with the right hand. Close the left nostril with the ring finger of the right hand. holding the thumb of the right hand in the proximity of the right nostril, take a deep breath and fill the lungs with air. Now close both the nostrils-hold the breath in. There should be no stress. Keeping the right nostril close breathe out through the slightly opened left nostril. This completes one cycle. One can do this for 5 to 10 minutes. Remember Puraka is always through the right nostril and Rechaka through the left. Puraka Rechaka should be of equal duration. The eyes, ears, forehead, and eyebrows should be totally immobile but without stress.
Benefit: Improves digestion. Patients with low blood pressure get special benefits by doing this pranayama, Persons with high BP and heart disease should never do Antarkumbhaka (holding of breath) in Pranayama
Sit in a relaxed position. Open mouth and form an’ with the lips. Roll the tongue in the form of a tube, so that the sides touch each other. This resembles a hollow tube through which one will breathe. Slowly take a deep breath through the rolled up tongue; draw in air through the rolled up tongue with a sssss’ sound to fill the lungs completely. Draw the tongue in and close the mouth. Press the chin to the chest and do the Jalandhar bandha, holding in the breath for some time.
Then raise the head and breathe out through the nose. This is one cycle-do as many cycles as possible comfortably.
From the name itself – this pranayama helps to cool down the body system. It improves digestion and relieves thirst.
In this case, the tongue is not rolled. Just part the lips and clench the teeth. Breathe in through the gap between the upper and lower teeth set gently. Take a long breathe, then turn the tongue backward in the mouth such that the lower part of the tongue touches the palate.
Holding the breath for some time, do the Jalandhar Bandha. Then raise the head and release the bandha. Slowly breathe out through both nostrils. This completes one cycle.
In both Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayama, the breath is inhaled through the mouth and released through the nostrils.
Benefit: Various asanas and pranayama raise body heat. Only these two pranayama helps to cool the body.
Note of Caution:
Pranayama is to be done under expert guidance. For Jalandhar Bandha try to learn from a Yoga master. While doing Sheetali and Sheetkari Pranayama the environment should be clear. In these air enters the lungs through the mouth. The mouth has no filter like lungs so microbes of the atmosphere will enter the body. Take care.