Pranayama is formed by the union of ‘Prana’ and ‘ayama’. ‘Prana’ refers to the universal life force and ‘ayama’ means to regulate or lengthen. Prana is breath or vital energy needed by our physical and subtle layers, without which the body would perish. Hence, it can be stated that Prana keeps us alive. Therefore, Pranayama is the control of breath. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve a healthy body and mind.
Pranayama has been practiced in India for thousands of years with yoga masters passing this knowledge to their disciples. The ancient masters incorporated pranayama in the various rituals, and the tradition still continues with priests practicing the yoga form at birth, marriage, death and other auspicious ceremonies. However, it is important to understand the philosophy and purpose of practicing Yoga to realise why one must incorporate Pranayama in their daily lives.
Pranayama forms an important component of Yogic practice. It is one of the crucial practices of Hatha Yoga, Patanjali Yoga Sutra and Tantra Yoga. The main purpose of Pranayama is to gain control over the Autonomous Nervous System and influence the mental functions through it.
So what does Pranayama involve? Slow controlled, deep inspiration (Puraka), retention of breath (Kumbhaka) and near complete expiration with awareness (Rechaka). This helps the flow of Prana or vital energy to all parts of the body. Regular practice of Pranayama can modulate the sensitivity of chemo-receptors and also helps calm the mind.
The eight techniques of Pranayama mentioned in most Hatha Yoga Texts are as follows:
It is said that every person must practice Nadishodhan, Suryabhedan, Ujayi, Sheetali, Bhramari and Bhastrika Pranayama. But before practicing Pranayama one must follow the essentials stated below:-
- External environment: Any place that is well-ventilated and free from noise, insects and flies should be preferred to practice Pranayama
- Right season to begin the practice of Pranayama: One should begin practicing Pranayama in the spring season, i.e. March-April, and autumn season, i.e. Sept-Oct. A person who has been practicing pranayama must ensure regular practice throughout
- Right time: Morning is best suited to practice Pranayama
- Seat or Asana: The seat should be soft, thick and comfortable
- Asana: Asanas like padamasana, siddhasana, vajrasana and sukhasana are considered the most suitable postures to practice Pranayama
NADI SHODHAN PRANAYAMA
Importance of name
Nadi shodhan pranayama or alternate nostril breathing technique is one of the fundamental types of Pranayama. It helps keep the mind calm, happy and peaceful as well as helps release accumulated tension and fatigue. This breathing technique is named Nadi Shodhan, as it helps clear out blocked energy channels in the body, which in turn calms the mind. It is also known as Anulom-Vilom pranayama, which is indicative of the fact that the order of using nostrils for inhalation and exhalation is reversed every time.
Sit in any comfortable meditative asana – with your spine erect and shoulders relaxed. Close your and keep a gentle smile on your face. Place your left hand on the left knee with palms facing the sky or in Chin Mudra (thumbs and index finger gently touching each other).
We will use the ring finger and little finger to open or close the left nostril and thumb for the right nostril. Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Now breathe in from the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently with the ring finger and little finger. Removing the right thumb from the right nostril, breathe out from the right. Breathe in from the right nostril and exhale from the left. You have now completed one round of Nadi Shodhan pranayama. Continue inhaling and exhaling from alternate nostrils for 3 to 5 minutes, making sure that no sound is produced as the air passes through the nostrils.
- Calms and steadies the mind, improves focus and concentration. Balances left and right hemispheres
- Strengthens the immune system
- Manages hypertension
- Provide sufficient oxygen for the functioning of every cell in our body
- Removes waste products such as Carbon dioxide and other toxic gases from the body, so that they do not remain in the blood stream
- Releases accumulated stress in the mind and body effectively and helps relax
SURYA BHEDHANA PRANAYAMA
Importance of name
Surya Bhedana Pranayama is one of the main pranayamas practiced with Kumbhaka. ‘Surya’ means the sun and ‘bhedhana’ means to get through. In Surya Bhedana Pranayama, the Surya Nadi or the right nostril channel is activated. Hence, one inhales through the right nostril and exhales through the left.
Sit in any meditative posture, e.g. Padmasana, Siddhasana, Vajrasana, etc. Make the trunk and spine straight and place the hands on the knees. Close your eyes and take a few relaxed breaths before starting the practice. Keep the left nostril closed with your right hand’s middle and ring finger. Slowly inhale without making any sound through the right nostril as long as you can do it comfortably. Then bring your right hand down and place it on the knees and retain the breath by firmly pressing the chin against the chest (Jalandhara Bandha). Simultaneously, contract your rectum muscles (Moolbandh). This point cannot be reached at the very outset. You will have to increase the period of Kumbhaka (retaining breath) gradually. Exhale very slowly without making any sound through the left nostril by closing the right nostril followed by releasing the Moolbandh, Uddiyan bandh and Jalandhar bandh. Relax and come back to original position. Do this 3 to 5 times.
- Surya Bhedana Pranayama activates the body and the bodily functions
- It purifies the brain and destroys diseases caused by insufficiency of oxygen in the blood
- It helps to manage rhinitis and various sorts of neuralgia
- It is good for persons suffering from low blood pressure
- It cleans the frontal sinuses, destroys disorders of Vata and destroys intestinal worms
Importance of name
Ujjayi Pranayama is also called victorious breath or ocean breath. This pranayama stretches and warms the breath before it enters the lungs. This helps in generating a heat that is effective in getting rid of the toxins in the body. Both the inhalations and exhalations are performed through the nose. The breath is directed to the back of the throat while the muscles are constricted, causing a hissing sound like the sound of an ocean. As the passage of the throat is made narrower the air speed is increased.
Sit in a comfortable position or in any meditative posture. Make sure that you are breathing in and out through your nose while keeping your mouth closed. Your inhalations and exhalations should be long and deep. You should also constrict the muscles of your throat so that the air passage becomes narrower making the breath thin and long. You could begin practicing ujjayi pranayama for around three minutes, and slowly go up to ten minutes. The time duration of your inhalations and exhalations should be the same. As and when you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the breathing. During inhalation, a peculiar hissing sound is produced owing to the partial closing of Glottis. The sound produced during inhalation should be of a mild and uniform pitch. It should be continuously practiced.
- Removes heat from the head
- The practitioner’s voice becomes clear and melodious
- The gastric fire is increased
- It removes phlegm in the throat and all sorts of pulmonary diseases are managed effectively
- It is good for Asthmatic patients and also for the patients of respiratory disorders
Importance of name
The word “sheetali” means cooling or soothing in Sanskrit. The practice of sheetali breathing calms the mind, reduces the stress or fight – flight response. It cools the body and mind. The blood pressure is also lowered. This pranayama is very effective in hyperacidity or even ulcers.
Sit in Padmasana or in any comfortable position. Place your hands on the knees in Gyan Mudra. Close your eyes gently. Open your mouth, bring the tongue outside the mouth and form a cylindrical shape by bending both the extreme sides of the tongue longitudinally and inhale. While inhaling, the air should pass through the tongue. Close your mouth. Retain the air as long as you can with pressing the chin against the chest (chin lock), simultaneously, pull your rectum muscles (anal lock). Then release chin-lock and anal lock and exhale slowly through the nostrils.
- Beneficial in diseases pertaining to throat and spleen etc
- Cures indigestion
- Helps in controlling thirst and hunger
- Lowers blood pressure
- Beneficial in diseases caused by imbalance of pitta dosha (heat)
- Purifies blood
Importance of name
Sheetkari Pranayama or the Hissing Breath is usually done after practicing other asanas and pranayamas. Sheetkari Pranayama cools the body. It is very similar to Sheetali Pranayama.
Sit in a comfortable asana with palms on the knees. Roll the tongue upwards so that the lower part of the tongue touches the upper palate. Clench the teeth together. Pull the lips apart so that the teeth are exposed. Breathe in slowly. First fill the abdomen, then the chest and finally the neck region. This is the complete yogic breath. When breathing in, a slight hissing sound is produced. This is similar to the hissing of a snake. Bend the neck forward to do the chin lock, also called the Jalandhara Bandha. Hold the breath for some time, as much as you are comfortable. Release Jalandhara Bandha and exhale slowly through the nose. This is one round of Sheetkari Pranayama. One can do as many rounds as you may feel comfortable.
- The action of pulling the air through the teeth creates a cooling effect on the body
- Sheetkari relaxes the body and the mind
- It removes hunger, thirst, sleep and lassitude
- Sheetkari is good for health of teeth and the gums
- It destroys gulma (chronic dyspepsis), pleeha, inflammation of various chronic diseases, fever, indigestion, bilious disorders, phlegm
Those who are suffering from cold, cough or tonsils should not practice this Pranayama.
Importance of name
Bhramari pranayama derives its name from the black Indian bee called Bhramari. The exhalation in this pranayama resembles the typical humming sound of a bee. Bhramari pranayama is very effective in instantly calming your mind. It is one of the best breathing exercise to release the mind of agitation, frustration or anxiety and anger.
Sit up straight in a quiet, well ventilated corner with your eyes closed. Place your index fingers on your ears. There is a cartilage between your cheek and ear. Place your index fingers on the cartilage. Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, gently press the cartilage. You can keep the cartilage pressed or press it in and out with your fingers, while making a loud humming sound like a bee. You can also make a low-pitched sound but it is a good idea to make a high-pitched one for better results.
- Bhramari pranayama helps relieve tension, anxiety and anger. It is a very effective technique for people suffering from hypertension as it calms down the agitated mind
- Helps mitigate migraines
- Improes concentration and memory
- Builds confidence
- Improves blood circulation and helps in reducing blood pressure
Importance of name
Bhastrika Pranayama is one of the main forms of Pranayama. In Sanskrit, Bhastrika means the ‘bellows’. It is said to purify the mind and clear pranic blocks. Rapid succession of forcible expulsion is a characteristic feature of Bhastrika.
Sit in any steady asana – Padmasana, Siddhasana and Vajrasana are ideal for the practice. Keep the body erect and close the mouth. Inhale and exhale in rapid succession. During this process a hissing sound is produced. Start with say 10 inhalations and exhalations per round. It can be increased over a period of time. Some practitioners even do it till they get perspiration. Some practice Bhastrika along with Kumbhaka (holding of the breath) at the end of the last exhalation. To do this, take a deep breath after the last exhalation and hold the breath inside for as long as comfortable. Then exhale and start breathing normally. This will constitute one round.
- Bhastrika pranayama increases the oxygen content in the blood. Extra oxygen replenishes the entire body
- It removes blockages in the nose and chest
- It is good for asthma patients and removes inflammation of the throat
- It increases the gastric fire and improves appetite
- Bhastrika when practiced with Kumbhaka can generate heat in the body and keep it warm in cold weather
- It improves general health and activates all the organs
- Bhastrika purifies the nadis or the energy (pranic) channels in the body, ensuring free flow of prana to all the organs in the body